Skin cancer kills thousands more people than sharks each year, experts say.

Residents along the coast of New South Wales may be alert to the risk of shark attacks like never before – but it’s a threat they sometimes forget which is more likely to kill them.

Of course, another attack by a great white shark, this time near Forster, leaving a 65-year-old surfer in hospital on the first day of summer, will not help calm our nerves.

But experts say the most likely way you may assist in your untimely demise this summer is by failing to protect yourself from the sun.

In terms of their respective deadliness to Australians, skin cancer outkills all sharks by far.

An average of one shark fatality each year compares with about 2000 people dying from skin cancer – with two in three Australians diagnosed with the disease by the age of 70.

And with a summer of heatwaves predicted, it’s the sun – and bushfires – that pose the greater risk.

Professor Sanchia Aranda, chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, said rates of skin cancer have been rising, but this is largely because of Baby Boomers whose sun exposure occurred many years ago before the risk. 

The good news was among younger people, rates are falling – but people needed to be reminded to reapply sunscreen every two hours, and wear a hat.

“We still have a significant proportion of Australians who think that a tan is healthy,” Professor Aranda said. “Just because you don't burn doesn't mean you're not at risk.”

Dr Daniel Bucher, senior lecturer in Marine Ecosystems and Fisheries Biology at Southern Cross University, said sharks were feared beyond proportion.

Playing on the mind: Sharks may be in people's minds after a spate of attacks in NSW but they're rarely a danger at patrolled beaches.

Playing on the mind: Sharks may be in people's minds after a spate of attacks in NSW but they're rarely a danger at patrolled beaches.

“I've heard people say, for instance, I’m cancelling my holidays to the north coast of NSW – there's too many sharks,” he said.

 “The risk from sharks is very small,” he said. “Don’t ruin your holidays by trying to avoid what is a very small risk.”

This was particularly the case at patrolled beaches where there are many sets of eyes to spot roaming fins.

Surf Life Saving NSW said there had never been a fatal shark attack at a patrolled beach during patrol hours across the state.

Truly deadly: While skin cancer rates are dropping in the young, the damage caused by the sun is too easily forgotten, experts say.

Truly deadly: While skin cancer rates are dropping in the young, the damage caused by the sun is too easily forgotten, experts say.

Mid-year rain has increased fuel loads in bush areas and Dr Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, said grassfires are easily started and can escalate quickly.

He said the costs of responding to and recovering from bushfires were rising as more houses and infrastructure were built in fire-prone areas.

“On top of that we've got the changing climate to deal with, which will bring more days which are likely to be like the days we saw on Black Saturday or Ash Wednesday,” he said.

“Grassfires move very quickly, they can start very easily from something as relatively innocuous as a farmer doing some work in the fields or a person parking a car with a hot exhaust in some grassy areas. On the really bad fire danger days, those with very high winds and very hot, we expect fires to move very rapidly.”

But many families had not established their fire response plan.

I've heard people say, I’m cancelling my holidays to the north coast of NSW – there's too many sharks. - Dr Daniel Bucher, marine ecologist

“We're still finding people don't have adequate bushfire plans, that they haven't practiced those plans, they haven't written them down,” Dr Thornton said.

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