An experimental trial using drones to spot large sharks in Australia is quickly seeing dramatic success. The SharkSmart drones observed more sharks — including the larger and more dangerous varieties — than were found using traditional hooks and nets.
Managing and detecting sharks is vitally important to keeping beaches safe for swimmers, divers, and surfers. Without these safeguards, shark attacks in shallow waters could injure, or even kill, beachgoers.
Lifeguards armed with binoculars and towers have historically been tasked with keeping an eye out for such threats (so they can evacuate the waters if necessary), while nets and hooks have been deployed to try and prevent sharks from entering popular beaches and waterways.
The success of using drones for these purposes is huge news, as the current methods are not only ineffective, they’re often problematic.
Plastic nets have highly negative impacts on aquatic life. Not only do they account for significant amounts of pollution that can harm sensitive reefs, but they also injure and kill sharks that get caught in them.
Furthermore, shark nets often catch other animals that pose no risk to humans, further increasing the damage they cause. Some data suggests as little as 3% of aquatic life caught in such shark nets in Australia were actually sharks.
A drone, however, has none of these side effects. A drone pilot can both detect sharks and alert swimmers without ever engaging with any dangerous wildlife. And they would remove the need for harmful plastic nets.
There’s also room to expand the utility of drones beyond their role as a detection system. Leo Guido, an Australian Shark Scientist, believes the drones could also drop floatation or other life-saving tools to swimmers in trouble.
“You’re more likely to save someone from drowning than interacting with a dangerous animal. There are clear benefits across the board to having drones at the beach,” he told Hakkai Magazine.
The Queensland government, encouraged by these findings, has expanded the scope of the trials, which will now continue until 2025.
With any luck, we may be one step closer to fewer nets in our oceans.
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