The future of shark bite mitigation
Shark nets and drum lines are currently deployed across hundreds of beaches on NSW and Queensland coastlines. NSW alone has 51 nets deployed while Queensland currently has more than 26 nets and 380 drum lines in their waters. But with little effectiveness and extensive environmental damage, there is new hope emerging in sustainable non-lethal methods to protect beachgoers and sharks alike.
Currently the most utilised of these is Drone technology, part of NSW $16 million shark management strategy. These unmanned drones provide real time aerial surveillance of a coastline with the ability to not only detect sharks in the water, but also identify species and clear the water if a species of concern is sighted. These drones have been proven to be highly effective with a 90% accuracy rate and are currently operational across 34 beaches. Drones along with the use of helicopter surveillance provide effective shark management in spotting and warning swimmers and surfers before an encounter can take place. Trials have also been conducted to test the abilities of these drones in an effort to help stranded swimmers by dropping a flotation device. While sharks are often in the back of people's minds when swimming it is drowning that remains a much bigger threat on Australian beaches, claiming almost 300 lives per year.
The ‘Shark Safe Barrier’ is the world's first 100% effective, eco-friendly and low maintenance deterrent to successfully protect humans from sharks with zero impact on surrounding marine life and environment. The barrier works by visually bio-mimicking natural kelp forests along with a series of permanent magnetic stimuli that engage a sharks sensitive electrical receptors dissuading them from passing through. Prototypes of the barrier were deployed in both South Africa and the Bahamas, where waters were chummed to attract sharks. Of the 125 sharks attracted, with 84 great whites and 41 bull sharks, not one chose to pass through the ‘Shark Safe Barrier’ to the chum. Being suitable for a range of coastal environments, including strong waves and currents, the installation of the barrier can successfully protect beachgoers from any shark encounter while also protecting the surrounding marine environment. The shark specific technology used allows other marine animals to freely swim through, dramatically eliminating the high levels of bycatch currently found in shark nets across Australian beaches.
Ocean Guardian currently has the world's only proven electronic shark deterrent, emitting short-range electrical pulses that create a powerful 3-dimensional field. This triggers small spasms in sharks sensitive receptors ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’, which are used for hunting, and causes them to turn away. These spasms are not harmful to the shark but rather create a level of discomfort which has little to no effect on other fish and marine mammals who do not have the sensitive Ampullae. The deterrent technology is supported by peer-reviewed research and so effective that Western Australia offers a $200 rebate to individuals who purchase their smaller personal use devices.
Perth based company ‘Eco Shark Barrier’ is becoming one of the world leaders in the design and manufacturing of environmentally friendly swimming enclosures. Composed of a series of highly durable components, the barrier allows the passage of small marine animals while preventing larger one from passing through. It forms a complete swimming ‘enclosure’ positioned from the sea bed to the surface, unlike regular nets that are typically positioned 4m below the surface. With the ability to be installed in both shallow and deep waters, its unique design allows it to withstand a wide range of environmental conditions and can adapt to its given surroundings. In 2019 Coogee Beach celebrated the six year anniversary of the installment of the ‘Eco Shark barrier’ while other beaches across Australia are accrediting the nets for boosting tourism and swimmer confidence.
A fully costed proposal for Queensland was created by Envoy, AMCS, HSI, Sea Shepherd, No Shark Cull Inc and Ocean Impact Org as a case study into modernisation, and can be found here. It shows the program is affordable and that cost is not a barrier.
While a combination of all four technologies would provide the most success, there is no doubt that public education is at the forefront in avoiding human and shark interactions.
Individual action and responsibility can only be expected when sufficient information is made widely available. The ‘Australian guide to surfing with sharks’ was written by Envoy cast member Madison Stewart with the aim to help educate those who enter the ocean to make the most educated choice in keeping themselves safe. Covering topics such as water temperature, visibility, bait balls, animal remains, time of day, and moon phases, the small but extensive guide allows individuals to better protect themselves when entering the water and provide better understanding towards shark behaviour.