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Byron Shire
June 18, 2021

Shark spotting drones in action from this weekend

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Andrew Colefax uses drones to research shark behaviour and develop drone-based shark detection. Photo supplied.

Last years successful trial of shark spotting drones on the north coast has led to the announcement that they will be trialling the drones to provide beach safety surveillance over 15 beaches from the start of the October school holidays. This supports the suspension of the unsuccessful shark net trial over the last two years on the north coast.

The trials begin this weekend on the north coast and include: Main Beach Kingscliff, Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Lighthouse Beach Ballina, Evans Head, Yamba and Coffs Coast as well as other beaches towards and below Sydney.

The drones, more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), are fitted with alerting devices and the ability to drop an inflatable rescue pod to distressed swimmers like they did earlier this year at Lennox Head.

The program will be funded through the $16 million NSW government Shark Management Strategy. Not only will it be used for shark spotting, but new alert devices fitted to the UAVs can be used to help evacuate swimmers from the water if required. Additionally, the technological advancements in the cameras and vision resolution will assist with shark species identification and research into the behaviour of marine life.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair said, ‘The vision will be delivered live back to the Surf Life Saving team at the beach, allowing them to spot any potential problems in the water as they happen, making it genuinely lifesaving technology.’

To supper the program they will also be training up to 300 lifesavers as pilots over the season.

‘If people can fly a UAV or want to learn to fly one, there’s now an opportunity for them to get involved and play a part in helping to protect people on our beaches,’ said Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce.

‘With the incredible rate of advancement in the technology, we may soon see this equipment operating on all our beaches in the very near future. The sky is the limit and may hold the key to reducing coastal drowning deaths.’

The UAVs will complement helicopter aerial surveillance already underway on the north coast.

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  1. I struggle to find any comfort in the idea that a drone may spot a shark in an area where I am swimming/surfing and save me from a nasty demise.

    The Northern Rivers coastline extends for about 230kms and has countless beaches.
    During daylight savings people will be in the water for about 13 hours a day every day (say 6:30am to 7:30pm ?) across that vast expanse.

    How many of these things will be buzzing around ?
    How long can they stay in the air ?

    It just defies logic to think that they could have them operating in a fashion that will provide them with a reliable field of view or surveillance capabilities (human or algorithmic) that will offer any serious sort of shark protection.

    Sure, I have never been attacked by a shark in the many many years of my life with time in the ocean, so I just feel like this will be a PR campaign (cue the Ben Franklin photo opportunity – perhaps we could build a shark barrier for each resident made out of his local media photo portfolio and the recycled oversize cheques he hands out) but no actual difference or outcomes.

    I do accept that they could be more helpful for monitoring a defined and limited flagged & patrolled swimming area, but that is not what they are being promoted as.

    Am I alone here ?
    What have I missed ?

  2. It would be good to know when the drones will fly during the day – and how often. If they go up once per day, that’s pointless!! Do you have more details?

  3. Good to see the issue being taken seriously, particularly after this week’s double shark attack on the Whitsundays. However, inevitably some popular beaches will miss out, but hopefully at some future stage, as the technology gets cheaper, all popular beaches will be covered.


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