Shark sighting closes Lamma beaches for 24 hours

Spadenose shark found by swimmer at Hung Shing Yeh beach, prompting warnings for swimmers to stay out of the water

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 9:33am

Two Lamma Island beaches reopened yesterday at the end of a 24-hour closure triggered by the discovery of a baby shark close to shore.

The spadenose shark, about 50 centimetres long, had died before government officials could reach it, but the sighting raised hopes that more sharks would return as the marine ecosystem recovered.

Spadenose sharks grow no longer than a metre and are not a threat to humans. A member of the species was spotted by a swimmer at Hung Shing Yeh Beach at about noon on Friday.

Marine police and the Government Flying Service checked for other sharks and big fish nearby, and examined shark nets.

Looped tannoy announcements told visitors to the beaches: "May I have your attention please. Suspected shark sightings are reported. Please do not go into the water," while signs warned that people disobeying the orders could face prosecution.

Despite the warning several families at Hung Shing Yeh were splashing in water near the shore and a few ignored the announcements and were swimming lengths of the roped off area within the shark net.

Hung Shing Yeh and nearby Lo So Shing Beach reopened at 1pm yesterday after the checks.

While bigger sharks were unlikely to return, the city could see more small sharks after a trawling ban began at the start of last year, Samantha Lee Klaus, assistant conservation manager at WWF-Hong Kong, said.

"We've heard from divers and fishermen that fish this year have been more abundant and in bigger sizes," she said. "But more research needs to be done to really legitimise whether our marine ecosystem have really gotten better post-trawling."

Hong Kong last reported shark attacks in 1995, when three swimmers died within 10 days near Sai Kung.

Twelve beaches were closed in July 2012 when the fin of a shark was seen off Lamma, and last year, a 1.8-metre silvertip shark was caught on film near Sai Kung.

Conservation experts said shark sightings should be welcomed, not feared. "Given their smaller size, [spadenoses] feed on small fishes and pose very little danger to humans," Tracy Tsang from WWF said.

Ocean Park Conservation Foundation director Suzanne Gendron said spadenoses were more common in warmer Southeast Asian waters.

Her team was "pleasantly surprised" to see larger fish around Deep Water Bay, but had yet to find scientific proof Hong Kong's waters had truly been revived. "Sharks are part of a healthy ecosystem," she said.