WE WERE THERE: Ongoing impact of North Coast shark attacks

WE WERE THERE is a series that revisits The Northern Star's in-depth coverage of the major events that have shaped the Northern Rivers over the past 20 years. Today, we look back at the paper's reporting of the ups and downs of Ballina's beloved giant crustacean.

THE DEATH of Ballina surfer Tadashi Nakahara after a shark attack in February was a tragic event which left our close-knit coastal community reeling.

The Northern Star was on scene covering the aftermath as it unfolded, from the outpouring of grief by friends and loved ones, to the increasingly urgent calls for something to be done to prevent such a tragedy happening again.

Tadashi Nakahara, inset, was killed by a suspected great white shark at Ballina.
Tadashi Nakahara, inset, was killed by a suspected great white shark at Ballina. Facebook (inset) / Twitter

Mr Nakahara's death was the second fatal shark attack along the North Coast after a fatal attack in Byron Bay the previous September.

As an isolated event it would have shocked the community, but as the second tragedy in six months it was interpreted as part of a potential "pattern" of attacks.

That fear came to pass when Ballina local Mathew Lee almost lost his life to a similar attack in July.

When the community held a moving memorial service to the 41-year-old Mr Nakahara, The Northern Star was there.

IN PICTURES: Shelly Beach shark attack

We spoke with those dealing with the trauma of witnessing the attacks, the close friends in shock, and local surfers who shared fond memories of a much-loved local.

An image posted on the Ballina Info Facebook page showing police warning surfers at Black Head, Ballina, that a shark had been spotted in the area on Sunday morning.
An image posted on the Ballina Info Facebook page showing police warning surfers at Black Head, Ballina, that a shark had been spotted in the area on Sunday morning.

Our team went on to closely cover the evolving story - as it became about the psychological impact of the shark attacks on our coastal communities as a whole.

When Mr Lee was attacked, we recognised his survival was thanks to the heroic actions of volunteers and emergency services on the day and new medical procedures that allowed a life-saving blood transfusion.

Shark sightings off North Coast beaches are impacting on tourist numbers, the tourism industry reports.
Shark sightings off North Coast beaches are impacting on tourist numbers, the tourism industry reports.

We were covering the story as it went international, with global media picking up on the concentration of attacks just as Evans Head's Craig Ison became the fourth serious victim and was lucky to survive.

IN PICTURES: Tadashi Nakahara's memorial service

The Northern Star throughout has been careful not to be sensitive, and provide accurate balanced reporting while reflecting the "dinner table" conversations that happen on the issue.

We have endeavoured to talk regularly to those on the ground and reflect the mood of our community.

The issue of shark attacks has now entered the realm of state government policy with the recent shark summit in Sydney and moves to introduce preventative safety measures.

It's also reminded us of the fact that sharks are a protected part of the natural environment.

Shark attack victim Mathew Lee and his partner, Suzy Garada. Photo from the Mathew Lee Official Support Facebook page. Photo contributed
Shark attack victim Mathew Lee and his partner, Suzy Garada. Photo from the Mathew Lee Official Support Facebook page. Photo contributed

The Northern Star will continue to keep a close watch on the issue from a unique local perspective - because we live here too.

Grab tomorrow's Star to see how we covered the fire that raged between Lennox and Broken Head in 2013.



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