NSW Government unveils new shark strategy — more drones, fewer helicopters
The New South Wales Government has announced its new $8 million strategy to protect beachgoers from sharks this year, investing in drone technology and the continued use of SMART drumlines at high-risk locations.
Up to 80 drones will be deployed, equipped with advanced technology that detects the size and species of sharks.
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said that is double the number of drones used last year.
"The new equipment will be used at 34 beaches on the north and south coasts deemed to be at risk of shark attacks," he said. "The high-tech drones are a big advance on current models."
A $16 million trial of shark mitigation strategies began in 2016 after an unprecedented spate of attacks on the north coast.
That trial period finished yesterday.
The Government's ongoing program seemed certain in the wake of a fatal attack near Kingscliff in early June.
A trial between Lennox and Evans Head saw more than 400 target species tagged and released further out to sea, including 333 great white sharks.
The 2020/21 NSW Shark Program includes:
- Drone surveillance at 34 key swimming locations
- 35 SMART drumlines in high risk locations on the north coast
- 21 VR4G listening stations along the NSW coastline
- The continuation of the Shark Meshing Bather Protection program, which has run since 1937, at 51 beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong
- Community awareness and education programs
Less helicopters, more drones
Ballina Mayor David Wright has been heavily invested in the shark programs since a spate of unprecedented attacks rocked the popular coastal town in 2015 and 2016. He said although the new strategy, titled the 2020/2021 NSW Shark Program, did not include helicopter patrols on the north and south coasts, it did include all the key measures requested.
"I'm prepared not to fight for that [helicopters] because I think the drone coverage will be good," he said. "It's like someone offering you $1,000 and you're questioning whether it's in $100 notes or $50 notes."
Cr Wright said the new fleet of drones alongside the existing VR4G listening stations, SMART drumlines, and Shark Smart app would provide the best coverage available.
"Councils up and down the coast haven't been asked to pay anything and we're getting this coverage that's going to benefit the tourism industry and the safety of locals," he said.
More drones should mean more training
Ben Beesley is the president of Le-Ba Boardriders, as well as a pilot and accredited trainer of commercial drone operators. He said his main concern about the increasing number of drones was the education and training of operators.
"I feel as though the volunteers don't get enough training to be able to operate the drones safely through the surf clubs," he said.
"Being a pilot myself, there's been many times where you come into pretty close proximity to drones. "If one of those was to come crashing through the windscreen of my aircraft it's probably going to send me to the ground."
Mr Beesley said there should be a focus on ensuring drone operators are well trained and have a broader understanding of the aviation industry.
"In terms on investment from the Government,I think that would be one way to make sure the sky's a safe place, not just the water," he said.
Drones could be deployed in emergency situations
On the NSW far south coast, beaches in Malua Bay, Tathra, and Pambula are set to receive a new drone. Director of Surf Life Saving for the region Cheryl McCarthy said the drone surveillance will help put beachgoers at ease.
"It's having those 'eyes in the skies' to get a different perspective which you don't have from the beach," she said.
Although the drones' primary purpose is aerial shark surveillance, Ms McCarthy said their small size can be made useful in emergency situations, especially along parts of the coastline that are difficult to access.
"If there are emergency call-outs in the area they can be deployed to back up those search efforts as well," she said. "They're easy to move around because they're small and we can trek them into remote areas."
// LEAH WHITE and ADRIANE REARDON
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