Drones, electric barriers and sonar to help keep sharks away in Australia



As summer approaches in Australia and people head back to the water, public concern about shark attacks naturally increases. To counter the threat, swimmers, fishermen and surfers could soon find beaches going high-tech.

To examine possible technological solutions to shark attacks, global experts gathered in Sydney on Tuesday for the New South Wales (NSW) state government’s first shark summit.

“There have been a number of incidents in recent months when it comes to interactions with sharks, especially when it comes to the north coast,” Blair told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve reviewed what technologies are available around the world … and we’re getting expert advice from the world’s best shark biologists and scientists.”

Various technologies have been used to deter sharks in Australia since the early 20th century, said Vic Peddemors, who heads the shark research section of the NSW Department of Primary Industries. For more than 80 years, for example, NSW has been setting nets off a number of the state’s beaches to protect swimmers. There are now 51 nets between Stockton and Wollongong, as well as surveillance from the beach and air.

Anti-shark nets and drum lines have been used around Australia for decades, but they have problematic by-catch issues, unintentionally snagging a variety of marine species. The government wants the summit to mark a new era in preventing this environmental impact, Peddemors added.

The technologies under consideration Tuesday and in an accompanying report fell into two categories: Shark deterrence and detection.

In terms of whole beach protection, a variety of new physical barriers are being considered, including the Eco Shark Barrier and the plastic “bionic” barrier, both of which use innovative flexible designs to keep sharks out without damaging marine life. There are also electric and magnetic barriers available, such as shark repelling cables or a rubberised electric underwater fence.

To detect sharks and boost warning systems, the summit’s experts will also consider using sonar tracking devices such as Clever Buoy, as well as various acoustic tagging and tracking programs.

A drone trial, aimed at detecting sharks, is also set to begin shortly, Peddemors added.

NSW beaches provide a particular challenge because of the state’s extremely dynamic coastline — any new technologies would have to withstand extraordinarily harsh conditions.

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