30 Oct First northern NSW nipper carnival watched over by shark drones
Nicholas McElroy, Gold Coast Bulletin October 30, 2016
NERVOUS northern NSW parents and surf lifesaving clubs are turning to Gold Coast’s “little ripper” drone to keep a watch out for sharks during their surf carnivals.
The Cudgen Classic at the weekend became to first non-trial event watched over by the Little Ripper Group, according to chief operations officer Ben Trollope. The nine-hour junior surf lifesaving event at Kingscliff was patrolled by a dozen drone flights on Saturday along with water patrols.
In northern NSW, where there are no netted beaches, there have been a dozen attacks in about two years including the fatal attack on surfer Tadashi Nakahara in February 2015.
The drones developed on the back of the spate of attacks stream real-time vision back to operators keeping an eye out for dangerous sharks.
The hi-tech devices worth $25,000 are fitted with loud speaker, sirens, SOS lights and a flotation device with a shark shield, which, in theory, bombs sharks with electric pulses which deter the animals.
Cudgen Headland SLSC director of surf lifesaving Michael Crawley said the measures were an obvious next step in safeguarding lifesavers.
Because there has been no serious attack north of Byron Bay for several years Mr Crawley said Cudgen had a different risk profile.
“Their risk profile up here is very different,” he said.
Mr Crawley said the carnival ran without any scares with the parents of about 200 Nippers put at ease by the water and aerial patrols.
“We’ll do everything we can to improve the quality and safety of events, especially for the bigger carnivals,” he said.
Drones have emerged as a preferred way to spot and deter the potential killers.
As part of the NSW Government’s $16 million management plan more than $7m has been set aside for the trial of new technologies and aerial and coastal surveillance.
Up to $3.5m has been set aside for helicopter surveillance. This is despite a 2012 study by the NSW DPI which said helicopter surveys had only a 17 per cent success rate detecting shark models placed just 2.5m below the water.
NSW Shark Meshing and Bather Protection Program researchers have reported just one shark is spotted for every 100km flown.
Work at carnival was at the request of Cudgen Headland SLSC and not related to DPI patrols. Little Ripper Rescue chief operations officer Ben Trollope said the drones had a successful weekend.