29 Oct Cudgen surf club trials eye in sky
October 29, 2016
Tweed Daily News
by David Carroll
A HIGH-TECH drone will patrol the waters off Kingscliff today as hundreds of young athletes take to the surf for the annual Cudgen Classic ironman event.
The event, hosted by the Cudgen Surf Life Saving Club is expected to attract more than 200 athletes and comes just days after the latest in a spate of shark attacks at North Coast beaches.
Jade Fitzpatrick was bitten on the leg by a great white shark while surfing at Broken Head on Monday.
It was the third shark attack in less than five weeks in the Ballina to Byron region and has North Coast beachgoers on high alert.
While none of the attacks have occurred on Tweed beaches, organisers of the Cudgen Classic – which was interrupted last year by a suspected shark sighting – have moved to enhance water safety.
Cudgen SLSC director of surf lifesaving Michael Crawley said the club would trial a $25,000 drone as part of water safety operations today.
“We have risks like every beach has but we are being proactive to provide a level of comfort to our swimmers,” he said.
The drone, one of the Little Rippers being trialled by the State Government, was unveiled during a demonstration at the club yesterday.
The military-grade, battery-powered drones are fitted with a camera that feeds footage back to two controllers, can fly up to 100 kilometres and stay airborne for about 150 minutes, flying above beaches and the ocean to spot sharks and assist with rescue operations.
“We’ve been playing with the technology for over a year now,” Mr Crawley said.
“Little Ripper has been doing joint exercises with Far North Coast surf life saving clubs for two to three months over winter. The technology, it’s speed, it’s pretty impressive.”
If the trials are successful about 40 of the drones are likely to be made available to surf lifesaving clubs around Australia next year.
Meanwhile, the State Government responded to the latest shark attack by fast-tracking a six-month trial of shark nets at Northern NSW beaches.
Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said it was hoped the nets would be installed before the summer holidays. They are unlikely to stretch to Tweed beaches.