Tourism boss puts PR before shark safety
FEARING bad publicity, a Tourism Whitsundays manager lobbied the State Government to remove drumlines from Cid Harbour in the wake of two shark attacks because of bad publicity.
The lobbying came just days before drumlines were removed, and six weeks before the debate was reignited after a third - this time fatal - shark attack in the same spot.
Emails obtained by The Courier-Mail show the then general manager of Tourism Whitsundays, Natassia Wheeler, emailed Tourism Minister Kate Jones's policy adviser arguing for the removal of drumlines in the harbour due to negative media attention.
That email came days after tourist Justine Barwick, 46, and schoolgirl Hannah Papps, 12, suffered serious shark attack injuries 24 hours apart while swimming in the busy Whitsundays mooring spot.
The Fisheries Department reacted to the attacks by installing baited drumlines, with the media publishing images of the capture of large sharks.
Mrs Wheeler, who is now chief executive, emailed the policy adviser on September 24 asking: "Is there anything you can do to have these (drumlines) removed?
"If you keep these drumlines in, you are going to keep catching sharks," she wrote.
"The media attention will change from the attacks to the number and size of sharks caught in the Whitsundays, and then that it is an unsafe place to visit and swim."
She later texted Ms Jones asking "if there is a way any captures can not be reported in the media".
The drumlines were removed after six days, but came under discussion again last month when Melbourne doctor Daniel Christidis, 33, was killed in a Cid Harbour attack.
Days later experts ruled out installing drumlines in favour of a local shark study and a no-swim zone declaration, finding drumlines "could not guarantee swimmer safety".
Ms Wheeler this week said she sent the email on the back of "emails, threats (and) horrible phone calls" from people who thought Tourism Whitsundays authorised the drumlines.