The stats on marine animals killed in Australia’s shark nets are staggering. Between 2001 and 2020 shark nets and lethal drumlines caught an enormous 15,188 animals in Queensland alone, including turtles, dolphins, dugongs, and rays.
The technology behind shark nets was devised in the 30s and hasn’t been updated since. There are many solid and emerging technologies that provide a humane alternative to the cruel shark nets and baited drumlines, and it’s time they were adopted more widely in Australia.
1. Drone surveillance
Drones are a useful and accurate technology providing aerial surveillance of coastal waters and real-time vision of the area. The DPI has been trialling the use of drones to detect sharks at NSW beaches in collaboration with Surf Life Saving NSW since 2017. In the 2018/19 drone trials there were nearly 9,000 flights which observed 350 sharks and evacuated beaches on 48 occasions.
Check out this amazing video to see the footage captured by drones in NSW.
2. Helicopter surveillance
If a shark is sighted by the helicopter, a siren is sounded, a PA is used to alert beachgoers, and beach authorities are notified. It has important benefits such as being able to provide surveillance on remote beaches, ensuring regular water evacuation if required.
Helicopter surveillance has been used in NSW since 2009 alongside drones and shark tagging, and is currently being trialled along the rest of the NSW coast as part of the Shark Management Strategy.
3. Personal deterrent devices
Personal deterrent measures have increased in popularity. They work by projecting an electrical or magnetic field around the swimmer, surfer, or boat that causes discomfort to a shark if they come within a few metres.
There have been varied results on the effectiveness of personal deterrents devices, but the . Ocean Guardian FREEDOM+ Surf (pictured above) was shown to be the most effective in a recent study.
The Western Australian government offers a $200 rebate on shark deterrent devices.
4. Educational signs and community education
Community education plays a vital role in keeping the public informed about potential risks and the most up to date shark mitigation strategies. Signs also assist in providing advice to tourists who may be unaware of the dangers associated with Australian beaches.
5. Shark spotter program
Shark spotters have played an integral role in shark mitigation for many years. The shark spotters are lifeguards or a sighting crew with a vantage point scouring the ocean. If they see a shark they can quickly alert beachgoers and beach authorities using their phones.
6. Shark safe apps
Phone apps are a useful tool in ensuring the safety of beachgoers. There are 21 shark listening stations along the NSW coast which record the presence of tagged animals swimming within a 500 metre radius and provide real-time updates to the SharkSmart App.
WA also launched a Smart Safe app in 2019.
7. Global Marine Enclosures – Aquarius Barrier
The eco-friendly Aquarius Gen 2 Barrier is enclosed space which also acts as an artificial reef, attracting a wide variety of small fish and marine life while keeping larger animals at bay. The growth on the barrier is mostly algae and after a few weeks becomes a rich feeding ground for small fish. This eco-barrier has a recorded bycatch number of 0 and has been trialled in two areas in WA.
8. Eco Shark Barrier
Late last year the Eco Shark Barrier was installed at one of Perth’s most popular beaches, Cottesloe. The barrier, which comprises sections of reinforced plastic grids with gaps for small fish and other marine life to swim through, protects swimmers from larger animals and does not catch or kill any marine life.
9. Shark safe kelp forest barrier
The Sharksafe Barrier is an eco-friendly alternative to lethal shark nets. The barrier looks like a natural kelp field, but uses magnetic and visual stimuli to deter sharks without any harm to marine life.
It has been successfully trialled in South Africa and the Reunion Islands, with the hope of being trialled in Australia soon.
10. Electromagnet Shark Shield
The virtual “shield”, created by the personal deterrent manufacturers Ocean Guardian, is made up of electromagnetic devices that form a 50 metre by 20 metre barrier at the end of the jetty, creating a virtual curtain to keep sharks away. The curtain emits low-frequency electrical pulses that act as an uncomfortable deterrent to sharks. It is currently being trialled at Bussleton Jetty in WA.
There are many promising alternatives to shark nets. Some are already being utilised across the country with great results, but others are in need of government support. It’s time to make the better choice for our marine life and replace lethal shark nets with kinder alternatives.