In Australia, for eight months of each year Sydney’s most popular beaches are laced with fishing nets. Stretching 150m across, and set within 500m of the shore, the nets are anchored off 51 beaches between Newcastle in the north and Wollongong in the south. The aim of the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program NSW is to reduce the risk of dangerous encounters between sharks and people. Specifically, the program seeks to ‘deter sharks from establishing territories’. It does so by devising and deploying tools and employing people to catch and kill sharks.
This chapter examines the interplay between multiple interpretations of ‘territory’ and their political implications by considering what happens when nonhuman animals are enlisted in territorialising practices of shore control. The work traces the state of New South Wales’ Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program to understand how territory is claimed, asserted and confounded at the shore. In this case, the idea of territory is disputed at the same time as the space over which territory is claimed.
Grasping the ways in which territory is made and remade at the shore is important conceptually, politically and practically, as it sheds light on our understanding of territory. More specifically, this work is also important because these practices have direct implications for the safety and wellbeing of people, and for the conservation of marine animals, species and environments. Especially significant in this case is how the Shark Meshing Program plays out for several species of shark that are at once formally recognised as threatened and as potentially threatening to humans.
The shore is our point of departure: the line where the land meets the sea. The broader transitional zone—the coast—includes areas above and below the water line. A zone where terrestrial environments and processes influence marine ones, and vice versa (Woodroffe 2002). This is a liminal space that is neither land nor sea; a zone that merges two distinct geo- and biophysical domains. At the shore the seeming solidity and stability of land meets the liquidity and constant motion of water; a marked shift in flux. The coast presents a continually changing land-/sea-scape, as tides advance and retreat, changing water depth and morphology. This is also a place where humans encounter a distinctly nonhuman world. Permanent human habitation is not possible, yet life thrives. These distinct qualities of the coast are fundamental to its contested use.
By exploring territory beyond land, we also explore territory beyond the human. I argue that asserting, maintaining and contesting territory are more-than-human projects. Nonhuman animals and materials play vital roles in co-producing territory. In this chapter a series of interrelated accounts of the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program NSW illuminates the more-than-human project of producing territory beyond terra. I examine four key agents that work outside or alongside governance institutions to make and remake territory at the coast; namely, the coast itself, sharks, bathing human bodies and nets. But first, an account of territory at the ocean’s edge, and contemporary approaches to shark hazard management.
This book chapter published as: Gibbs L 2018 ‘Sharks, nets and disputed territory in eastern Australia’ in Peters K, Steinberg P and Stratford E (Eds) Territory Beyond Terra Rowman & Littlefield International, London, pp203–219.
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