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Sharks partial to Sydney's cleaner waters

ENVIRONMENTAL protection of Sydney's beaches and harbor has created a cleaner marine environment, but that's attracting sharks closer to shore chasing fish, say marine experts after two shark attacks in two days.

Fishermen say shark numbers are rising, but marine scientists say while there have been more sightings it is unclear whether there are more sharks off Sydney.

A shark almost severed a surfer's arm in an attack just before dark on Thursday at Bondi Beach -- the first attack there since 1929.

A navy diver was attacked in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday, losing his hand, and he may lose his leg.

New South Wales state Primary Industries Minister Ian MacDonald said yesterday he would order a survey of shark numbers off Sydney.

"I think you'll find that the protective measures that have been put in place by governments in recent years have halted the decline of many species of sharks," MacDonald said yesterday.

"Coupled with some improved environment conditions, plus a reduction in fishing efforts in parts of the state, would mean shark numbers could enhance.

"The reports I am getting from people spotting sharks, there seems to be a build-up in sharks in the estuaries, as well as along the ocean shore."

Many species, including the Great White, are protected in Australian waters.

Beach rescue helicopter patrols were increased along Sydney's beaches yesterday and Bondi Beach was closed for the morning but some surfers still ventured out into the waves.

"Shark sightings have increased, particularly in the past five to six years," said Harry Mitchell, who conducts aerial shark patrols over Sydney's beaches.

Mitchell said cleaner ocean waters had made it easier to spot sharks from the aerial patrol. "Shark sightings do not necessarily mean shark numbers have increased."

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service said sharks were increasingly common in Sydney Harbour, particularly in February and March as they chase seasonal fish into the harbor.

"I guess it's the downside of the environmental controls," said the service's John Dengate.

In the past 10 years Sydney Harbour has become a much clearer marine environment due to a reduction in commercial shipping, industry and pollution.


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