Publication Details

Gibbs, L. (2018). Shores: Sharks, Nets and More-Than-Human Territory in Eastern Australia. In K. Peters, P. Steinberg & E. Stratford (Eds.), Territory Beyond Terra (pp. 203-219). London, United Kingdom: Rowman & Littlefield International.


In Australia, for eight months of each year Sydney's most popular beaches are laced with fishing nets. Stretching 150 metres (492 feet) across, and set within 500 metres (1,640 feet) of the shore, the nets are anchored off fifty-one 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, and specifically to deter sharks from establishing territories (Department of Primary Industries NSW 2009, 2015). Program managers achieve such ends by devising and deploying tools and employing people to catch and kill sharks. By considering what happens when non-human animals are enlisted in territorialising practices of shore control, this chapter examin es and unsettles the interplay between multiple interpretations of territory and the political implications of those interpretations. The work traces the state of New South Wales' Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program to understand how ter- ritory is claimed, asserted, and confounded at the shore. 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 then, this work is also important because these practices have direct implications for the safety and well-being of people, and for the conservation of marine animals, species, and environments. Especially significant in this case is the question of 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 liminal space is neither land nor sea; rather, it is a zone that merges two distinct geo- and biophysi- cal domains. At the shore the land's seeming solidity and stability meet 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 place is also one where humans encounter a distinctly non-human 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. Non-human 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 . In what follows, I exam- ine 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 is needed of territory at the ocean's edge, and contemporary approaches to shark hazard management.