Australia using drones to combat rising number of shark attacks

Australia’s sharks have been in the news a lot recently, as the country has one of the highest rates of shark attacks on earth. In New South Wales alone, there have been 13 reported incidents so far this year, and summer beach season is just about to start.

Authorities in New South Wales are worried about beachgoers getting bit… or worse. They are also concerned that tourists might be dissuaded from visiting beaches in the Sydney area because they are afraid of being attacked (even though the odds of encountering the menacing fish are very, very low).

A new approach to protecting people from shark attacks

Instead of starting to cull sharks that swim too close to shore, NSW authorities will take a high-tech approach to keeping swimmers and surfers safe. They will rely on helicopter and drone surveillance, while also deploying next-generations sonar equipment to get real-time shark locations in popular beach areas.

Despite being billed as a “high-tech solution,” the drones will actually help make shark surveillance cheaper in the long run. The initial plan calls for a budget of $16 million. Although choppers will still make shark-spotting flights, drones, which are cheaper to operate, can take over some of the workload and keep the overall price tag for ongoing surveillance to a minimum.

Another, more traditional, step will involve tagging sharks so that they can be tracked even if the drones are grounded.

Sharing shark locations with the public

How safe should beachgoers feel? This is a five-year plan, though it is starting right away. Once all sonar buoys are deployed and drone flights mapped out, a testing phase will begin.

It will be some time before all the features are in place and testing is complete. Once the “beta phase” ends, it will be very easy to access information about the latest shark locations. The goal is to be able to share the data with the public via a smartphone app. This will not only tell people when it is time to get out of the water, it can also help them see which beaches might experience closures in the near future because of shark activity.

Putting everyone's mind at ease

The timing for this plan is certainly good. Though there has only been one fatality in NSW from shark attacks this year, there has been a significant rise in the number of encounters (13 total). In 2014, there were only three recorded shark attacks, two of which proved fatal. The increase has made headlines and, at the very least, made people think twice about getting in the water.

When you think about the tens of thousands of people who get in the water every day in the Sydney area, the chances of becoming the victim of a shark attack are very small. Nonetheless, the increase in encounters with the toothy fish has forced authorities’ hand. The plan will, ideally, ease people’s minds and appease conservationists at the same time.

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