South Coast Branch Surf Life Saving president Steve Jones says swimmers are most at risk of being bitten after treading on or bumping into a shark, than in a deliberate attack.
The lifesaver is overseeing a summer human population boom at Hyams Beach, in the Shoalhaven, and the presence this week of groups of sharks close to shore.
The combination has resulted in the Moruya rescue helicopter being called to herd large sharks out to sea and the stationing of lifesavers on the normally unpatrolled beach.
However, with up to 1500 people on the beach on New Year’s Day, Mr Jones has sought to put the risk in context.
“The risk is not so much a shark attack but more of an inadvertent collision or the treading by a human on a shark in the shallows which may cause a shark to bite then leave the area,” he told Fairfax Media on Friday.
He said by 2pm the beach population on Friday had “peaked at about 1500 persons and more than 500 in the water”.
“The presence of sharks in their natural environment in Jervis Bay and particularly off Hyams Beach is known to the local population,” he said.
“This is not a new phenomenon.
“With the increasing tourist interest in the South Coast and Jervis Bay, Hyams beach and the beaches in the Bay are becoming increasing popular.”
Mr Jones said he had reassured one family unfamiliar with Australian beaches that sharks were a common presence.
“I informed them that there were sharks, but further out, as they have a natural presence, but if they came close to shore the lifeguards would warn them.
“The approach of the lifeguards is not to create panic if there is sharks close inshore, but to remove the swimmers from the water until all is clear.
“There was one event mid-afternoon where sharks came inshore and the beach population was called from the water.
“On both Wednesday and Thursday the sharks were swimming around swimmers in the water.
”On each day the sharks appear in the area (at) approximately midday and stay in the vicinity for some hours.”
Mr Jones congratulated lifeguards and Shoalhaven City Council for the quick decision to install patrols.
“Local residents and beach visitors were very positive and congratulatory to the lifeguards for their presence yesterday (Thursday).
“Two residents on the headland have given access to the lifeguards for a high vantage point in their backyards which can be accessed from the beach.
“Other residents were seen providing council rangers with cool water whilst directing large volumes of traffic.”