In the small coastal town of Kiama in New South Wales, Australia, gill nets that catch and drown sharks are the primary method for protecting water-users. Kye is looking into a more sustainable solution: a blimp that spots animals from the air.
I’m a professional ocean lifeguard and marine ecologist from Australia. I live on a street called Beach Road, which I suppose is a nice metaphor for my obsession with the sea. This obsession probably stems from my father, also a great ocean lover, who named me after the Hawaiian word for ocean. Pretty much all aspects of my life have an obvious connection with the sea and I find myself getting anxious when separated from the salt water for more than a few days. I grew up surfing and diving in the small coastal town of Kiama, on the south...
Aerial cameras have potential for mitigating the risk of shark-human interactions with zero by-catch. Our aim is to improve/automate current approaches to shark detection systems such as drones or aerial patrols. We are currently testing a blimp-mounted camera prototype, designed to provide continuous aerial coverage of swimming/surfing areas.
Managing shark-human interactions is a key social and environmental challenge that needs resolving if we are to maintain shark populations and ecosystem function. There is no denying that sharks pose some risk to public safety, however, we have a social and environmental responsibility to develop strategies that effectively keep people safe whilst ensuring the least harm to the environment.
When public safety is put at risk, management strategies are often implemented without proper trials or scientific evidence. Shark meshing is a prime example of a mitigation strategy that is causing harm to vulnerable species. Death or injury to marine species following capture in shark control programs on ocean beaches is a key threatening process listed by the NSW Scientific Committee. With the effectiveness of meshing programs hotly debated, a nonlethal, scientifically proven strategy is needed to assure the public that the ocean can be enjoyed safely.
Project AIRSHIP is designed as a low-cost shark spotting program providing continuous coverage of an area such as a swimming zone or surf bank. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, offer the ability for real-time aerial surveillance of coastal waters. Using these methods for shark detection shows promise but the utility of drones for this purpose is currently restricted by battery life and safety regulations. Our current airship prototype lasts 4 times as long on a single charge and costs up to 50 times less than other drones being trialled. Other tethered systems have been used successfully to monitor marine animals; Hodgson (2007) observed dugongs from a balloon-mounted camera system at a distance of up to 200 m and as deep as 3-4 m.
A review by Bryson and Williamson (2015) into the use of UAV’s for Marine Surveys highlights the potential of unmanned tethered platforms (such as balloons) for shark spotting applications, especially over fixed locations. The review indicates that such a system could provide a cost-effective approach to monitoring a single beach, with higher levels of public safety. Importantly the review highlights that further study into the utility of such systems for spotting sharks is warranted, especially in high wind conditions.
Incidents involving sharks and people are on the rise in South eastern Australia. Finding a non-lethal solution is a conservation challenge. Australian Aerial Patrol has been observing sharks for 18 years. Lachlan will examine their historical data to better understand and improve shark safety strategies.