25 Aug Are Drones The Answer To The Shark Problem On The NSW North Coast?
By Alex Workmam Aug 25 2016 3:29PM
A drone capable of spotting sharks and alerting surfers could be the answer to the shark threat at Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach following the abandonment of the ‘eco barrier’ earlier this month.
Originally signed off by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and New South Wales Baird Government, the ‘eco barrier’ copped much criticism from local surfers in the community who believed it to be unsafe and inappropriate for the swell-magnet set up at Lighthouse beach, which is better known to surfers as North Wall.
In March, Lennox Head’s Mark Hernage told The Northern Star that the rips and swells off Lighthouse Beach were severe, and younger or inexperienced surfers could easily get into trouble, making the barrier yet another hazard to be avoided.
“We don’t want the barrier there at all because it’s a hazard and a risk,” he said. “It’s the wrong technology on the wrong beach, and I think everyone knows that apart from the DPI. When it all comes crashing in on the next swell, who is going to pick up the pieces?”
Now that locals – and common sense – have prevailed, Ballina council are trialling the use of drones to protect the swimmers and surfers from the threat of sharks along what has become the spookiest stretches of coast in the country.
Earlier this month a drone called the “Mini Ripper” was trialled at Shelly Beach – the same beach where Tadashi Nakahara was killed in February 2015 after a fatal attack by a great white shark. The “Mini Ripper” is fitted with a megaphone, which can warn swimmers of an approaching threat.
A second drone, the “Little Ripper”, has already been trialled at Byron Bay and other locations along the coast to much acclaim.
If the drones are introduced they will be operated out of surf life saving clubs, with volunter lifesavers trained in their use.
Surf Life Saving Far North Coast duty officer Garry Meredith told The Northern Star he was “blown away” after seeing the drone in action over Shelly Beach on the weekend.
“(The pilot) took it off from the Shelly Beach surf club, he went out over a couple of swimmers in the water.
“We used the PA to tell the system we were going to drop a flotation device. He’s hit a button, it’s dropped, hit the water and inflated. “The swimmers brought it back to the beach for us.”If they can get it moving, it’s definitely going to only help us.”
Both drones have been fitted with a lifesaving rescue “marine pod”, which includes a water activated inflatable lifebuoy, a SharkShield electromagnetic shark repellent, plus a whistle and sea anchor. Research is even under way to fit the video camera with “deep learning” software which would allow each drone to recognise a shark in the water automatically.
Ballina mayor David Wright told The Northern Star he wanted to see something urgently deployed to Lighthouse Beach in time for spring-summer and the drones appeared to be the solution.
“My job is try to secure what we can for the safety of the people of Ballina,” he said. “This thing does everything, it’s just so easy to deploy. At the moment I can’t think of anything better.”