New and emerging mitigation and deterrent measures
This chapter begins the report's examination into alternatives to established
mitigation and deterrent measures. In doing so, this chapter focuses on
new and emerging technologies, while the next chapter considers other
approaches such as education.
Although the committee's focus is on particular categories of new and
emerging technologies, such as personal deterrents and eco barriers, examining
these categories necessarily involves discussing specific products within each
This chapter outlines the evidence received to indicate how it informed the
committee's consideration of the overall direction of research into new
products and what categories of new and emerging technologies appear to have
the greatest potential for increasing public safety.
The committee received evidence from companies involved in the research,
development and/or sale of these products; understandably, these companies
presented the strongest possible cases for their particular product or idea.
Claims about the efficacy of particular products are presented in this report
at face value, as it is not the role of the committee to select and promote a
particular company or product over another. Consumers interested in this
category of products should research and review the specifications carefully to
ensure any product they select is suitable for their requirements.
Overview of new and emerging technologies
A 2015 report prepared for the New South Wales Department of Primary
Industries (DPI) by Cardno identified several four categories of emerging shark
deterrent and detection technologies. These categories are as follows:
large-scale deterrents, which include a range of barriers that
separate water users and sharks;
personal deterrent devices;
detection technologies, a category which includes land-based
observer programs, acoustic and satellite tagging and tracking of sharks and
sonar‑based shark detection technologies; and
SMART (Shark Management Alert in Real Time) drum lines.
Essentially, the emerging technologies seek to provide an effective
safety product for water users while addressing some of the negative
consequences of existing lethal measures, such as the impact lethal measures
have on the marine environment. This point was well made by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), which
advised that a key advantage of new and emerging technologies is that they can
address 'the conflict between species protection and human safety' that is
inherent with lethal measures. AIMS noted that this conflict 'is likely to
increase' as sharks are 'increasingly recognised as species of conservation
concern'. Over time, it is expected that further species of sharks will be
added to international treaties such as the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Bonn Convention
and, therefore, provided with national and international protections.
Although there is a range of alternative shark deterrent and mitigation
measures at various stages of development, this chapter discusses the
alternative measures that received significant attention during this inquiry.
The first measure discussed are the SMART drum lines, followed by aerial surveillance,
other surveillance programs (including land-based shark spotting programs, tagging
programs and sonar technology), beach enclosures and eco-barriers, and personal
SMART drum lines
SMART drum lines are a new measure used in New South Wales. According to
the DPI, SMART drum lines 'differ greatly from traditional drum lines as they
are not designed to kill sharks'.
The committee was advised that drum lines use circle hooks which allow sharks 'to move
around in a circle; therefore, [the hook] allows water to get into the gills
and oxygenate the shark'.
When a shark is captured, a response team is alerted and responds to 'tag
and potentially relocate the shark'. The SMART drum lines used in New
South Wales are 'only deployed when a team is on hand for immediate response'.
In addition, mullet is used as bait with the aim to 'reduce the attraction of,
and interaction with, other marine mammals (whales, dugongs and dolphins),
seabirds and marine reptiles (turtles)'.
A DPI Fisheries research program
involving 15 SMART drum lines conducted between August 2015 and 30 September
2016 resulted in the capture of
34 white sharks and 15 bull sharks, all of which were tagged and released
alive. During this period, only two non-target species were caught, and both
were also released alive. As a result of these findings, on 2 October 2016
the New South Wales Government announced that it would use an additional 85
SMART drum lines.
As at July 2017, 35 SMART drum lines were allocated to the north coast,
with a further 50 to be trialled off beaches in off beaches in the
Shellharbour-Kiama, Shoalhaven, Mid North Coast, Forster and Byron Bay regions.
SMART drum lines have been successful in catching sharks when compared
to traditional lethal measures—Dr Daniel Bucher and Professor Peter Harrison
observed that 'in one day during January the SMART drum lines caught as many
sharks as the nets caught in the entire month'. Dr Bucher and Professor
Harrison also noted that bycatch on SMART drum lines is low and although the
'method of hooking a large shark by its mouth and dragging it further offshore
does raise some cruelty issues, but short-term post-release survival rates are
Overall, Dr Bucher and Professor Harrison concluded:
Although we prefer to support observational and warning
strategies rather than shark removal options, it is clear that smart drumlining
is a more effective and far less destructive method to remove dangerous sharks
from beaches than nets...
Humane Society International (HSI) has a 'cautious open mind' towards
SMART drum lines.
Provided that strong monitoring continues and the technology does not adversely
affect any marine species, HSI considers that the drum lines 'could be a
possible non-lethal replacement for nets'. Ms Jessica Morris from HSI explained
the factors that informed this conclusion as follows:
We did have concerns when we first heard that they were going
to be used, because the only trials that had been done were at Reunion Island.
At the time, we were very much concerned for hammerheads because, even though
they are a non-target species, they are captured on drum lines. And then
the post-release mortality was a big concern for us, because they are very
susceptible. The Reunion Island's trial showed that hammerheads were dying
within the two-hour period that they have to come out and unhook them, and some
animals were being eaten on the drum lines before the contractor could come out
and take them off. We did have concerns initially, but so far in New South
Wales, with DPI running it, there have been no mortalities from the SMART drum
lines. But we were worried, because there were a few great hammerheads caught.
If they are not tagging these non-target species we do not know if they are
going off and dying as a result.
Representatives of Sea Shepherd made similar comments. Ms Natalie Banks
The smart drum lines have caught various shark species in
New South Wales. They have tagged and relocated those sharks, which allows us
to get evidence that those sharks are surviving, because the tags are being
picked up and their data analysed. If Western Australia was to look at SMART
drum lines, it would be something that I would not be as vocal about as I was
about a static drum line that does not allow a shark to move around.
However, other stakeholders on either side of the argument about the
current need for lethal measures expressed scepticism about the merits of SMART
drum lines. The Sunshine Coast Environment Council submitted that the measures
are questionable on animal ethics grounds and their contribution to public
Although 'Smart' drum lines provide a degree of research
benefit, they still harm marine life and provide the same false sense of
security as standard drumlines and nets. Given the small number of sharks
tagged, this cannot be considered a major solution or enhancement to ocean-user
safety. Likewise, animals susceptible to stress related death like that of the
Hammerhead species have a significantly reduced chance of survival once
Individuals who consider lethal drum lines are successful were critical
of the tag and release approach used by SMART drum lines. Mr Donald Munro
The only problem is that that shark is still released. No
matter how far off the shore they tow them, they can end up coming back if they
are of a mind to—and they are. Tagged or not, they are still a risk to
It is a double-edged sword, that one.
Mr Alan Baldock stated:
They are releasing them from
the SMART drum lines. I watch them from the beach with binoculars. I have seen
huge sharks getting released only about 200 or 300 yards off the beach. What is
the sense in that?...You say, 'What are you letting it go for? Come on! You have
a chance.' There are families swimming there.
Advances in aerial surveillance
As discussed in Chapter 3, fixed wing and helicopter aerial patrols are
a long‑established tool for shark spotting with four aerial patrols
currently in use in Australia that are dedicated to bather protection.
Although the method is fundamentally not new, evidence was received about how
technological advancements could improve shark spotting, particularly by
improving spotting rates across a wide range of conditions.
Multispectral and hyperspectral
Mr Duncan Leadbitter, Director, Australian Aerial Patrol, discussed how
hyperspectral scanners could enhance detection efforts where the clarity of the
water is an issue or to address reflections from the water—essentially, the
technology could help 'the human eyes to look deeper into the water'. Mr
Leadbitter advised that, although funding for research into this technology has
been made available, his organisation has been unsuccessful in obtaining
funding to deploy the technology on aerial patrols.
The committee was also referred to multi-spectral camera technology that
'can eliminate the limitations inherent in detecting animals solely in the
visible wavelengths of light'.
Specifically, the committee received evidence about a product called Shark Alert,
which uses a 'multispectral camera to look at sharks in deeper water than the
The managing director of the company behind Shark Alert, Mr Chris Gurtler,
described the technology as being 'an innovative method to detect sharks over a
wide area, deep below the water surface, using military grade multispectral
technology'. Mr Gurtler added:
The technology was originally designed for the US navy to
detect Russian submarines. We have now customised it to detect sharks at depth
in the ocean...Our system of protection includes a suite of technologies from
radiometric and algorithmic analysis detection, transition of shark details and
type to public notification via our partner app Dorsal. We have designed a
waterproof smart watch for surfers that will run our notification platform,
enabling them to simply leave the water when a dangerous shark is nearby.
Dr Craig Blount, a senior environmental scientist with Cardno, who has
reviewed the Shark Alert technology, noted that it addresses the problem of
only being able to detect sharks that are on or near the surface. He added,
however, that like any aerial survey, multispectral camera technology is
limited to temporal coverage; that is, 'they fly over once and that is it'.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
Although new and emerging technologies may assist traditional aerial
patrols, most of the evidence received in this area related to the potential
for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are more
commonly referred to as drones.
Some submitters highlighted, and were optimistic about, the potential
for drones to assist with efforts to reduce the risk of humans encountering
dangerous sharks. For example, Australia for Dolphins included the following
observations about drones in its submission:
Drone technology is growing at a rapid pace, and a recent
trial in 2016 of the Westpac-funded "Mini Ripper" drone was found to
be very effective. The drone is fitted with a video camera, loudspeaker and an
emergency pod containing lifesaving equipment capable of being dropped into the
Further research is currently being conducted at Sydney's University
of Technology to fit the drone's video camera with specific software that would
give it the ability to recognise a shark in the water.
Surf Life Saving NSW and Australian Lifeguard Service NSW explained that
Surf Life Saving NSW has been involved in trials of drones in various locations
in New South Wales and that individuals involved in both organisations have undertaken
UAV pilot training to further develop 'capacity for enhanced beach surveillance
Associate Professor Daryl McPhee argued that drones 'will more than
likely' replace the 'traditional approach of using people in planes and
helicopters to spot sharks', which he considered is 'outdated'. The associate
Which drones are optimal and
protocols around their use are part of ongoing investigation, but there use is
likely to become more widespread and their efficacy improve.
The cost associated with drone technology also appears to be decreasing.
The Mayor of Ballina Shire Council, Cr David Wright, referred to a drone
that initially cost $100,000 but now costs less than $10,000. This includes a
camera that was $30,000 but is now $800 'and completely waterproof and thermal
and everything'. Cr Wright remarked that the drone technology 'is changing
The potential for drones to support other lifesaving measures was noted.
For example, Greenpeace, which called for funding to be provided for
trialling drones as well as for other research programs, stated:
There is potential for drones to be used to supplement shark
spotting efforts by identifying sharks from above the water. If drones are
found to work effectively, they could be a great additional resource for shark
spotters and surf lifesavers. If the drones have a high success rate, they
could eventually replace the Shark Spotters Program.
However, it was noted that some of the challenges and limitations
associated with traditional aerial surveillance similarly apply to drone
surveillance. Dr Christopher Neff submitted that:
...the use of drones, helicopters, shark spotters, and fixed
wing aircraft all rely on the proper weather conditions and the public should
be informed that cloud cover, white caps, sun glare, the type of shark,
position of the shark, and size of shark can all affect visibility.
In addition, the use of drones may encounter unique challenges. The Australian
Aerial Patrol submitted:
Drones as currently developed have some significant
operational limitations such as time of flight (an hour for high end drones),
range (experimental drones can travel about 40km but off the shelf solutions
have far smaller ranges) and vulnerability to wind (a major issue on the coast
in summer), amongst other issues.
Dr Jan-Olaf Meynecke, who spoke positively about drone technology and
the ability for it to replace the more expensive traditional aerial surveys,
noted that in perhaps ten years' time automated drone systems could be capable
of sending alerts to surf lifesavers. However, Dr Meynecke noted that there are
potential safety issues associated with the technology, such as 'if they just
fall from the sky and hit someone'.
Sea Shepherd referred the committee to an article co-authored by a
senior research scientist at the DPI and researchers at Southern Cross
University. The article identified five major issues that drones need to
overcome. These issues are as follows:
civil aviation regulations;
public safety concerns;
public privacy concerns;
the reliability of hardware; and
the development of purpose-designed software that automatically
detects sharks with a high level of accuracy.
It was also noted that in order for drones to be effective, people are
needed to operate the drones and monitor the video footage. Mr Andy Kent,
Lifesaving Manager, Surf Life Saving NSW, explained that resources for surf
lifesaving are already limited, regardless of whether the resources are
provided by council or on a volunteer basis.
This is significant because, as Mr Leadbitter observed, 'the drone does not
spot the sharks: it is the person who is watching the screen'.
Information collected from tagging programs and sightings
Shark tagging programs aid research into shark movements and behaviour
and are also intended to support public safety efforts by enabling the
identification of individual sharks that approach the coast and areas of higher
risk for water users generally.
The tags used include fin-mounted satellite tags and surgically inserted
The committee received evidence that highlighted how tagging programs can help
improve the understanding of shark movements and behaviour. CSIRO submitted
...works with a variety of State government and
university-based research teams to achieve a broad coverage of tagging and
genetic sampling of white sharks. This supports research into a national-scale
understanding of their movements, behaviour and population status. Such
information also helps with the interpretation of human-shark interactions and
can inform assessments of the efficacy of both shark control programs as well
as shark detection and deterrent devices.
The tagging programs are linked to other shark management measures
including SMART drum lines (sharks hooked on SMART drum lines are tagged where
possible) and public safety websites and social media accounts that publicise when
tagged sharks are detected near the coast. These online services include
government-operated social media accounts, social media accounts operated by
surf lifesaving organisations and dedicated apps such as Dorsal. At one beach
in Western Australia, when a tagged shark is detected this information is used
as part of a system of alarms and flashing lights that is active when the beach
is not patrolled.
A significant number of people refer to the information distributed as a
result of tagging programs and public shark sightings. Mr Alan Bennetto from
Dorsal advised that approximately 100,000 people use the Dorsal app. The users
of Dorsal's social media sites total around 250,000 people.
Dr Christopher Neff commented that shark tagging programs which provide
the public with real-time information on sharks can 'reduce the underlying
levels of risk and make beach-going safer'. Dr Neff continued:
A good example of this is the education provided to the
public by scientific shark tags, which highlight shark movements year round,
and from which information can be displayed accessibly on smart phones. I
recommend continued scientific tagging of sharks and sharing of data with the
public so they can have informed decisions before going in the water.
Associate Professor McPhee, who described tagging programs as 'an important
part of mitigation', noted that such programs are a 'long-term approach' as the
efficacy of these efforts 'is enhanced when the number of animals tagged is
large, and the number and location of receivers to detect tagged sharks are
Others, however, questioned the overall benefits of tagging programs for
public safety. Australian Aerial Patrol submitted that:
Tagging programs may provide
some useful data on shark movements but their utility for protecting bathers is
unproven and not evaluated by independent scientists. Tagging rates are low and
the number of listening stations is unlikely to be of any relevance to bathers.
The cost of a bather protection program would be astronomical and beachgoers
deserve the full facts on what tagging programs can actually deliver.
Dr Blount from Cardno noted that a practical limitation to shark tagging
programs is that, for them to be effective, every dangerous shark or a large
proportion of them would need to be tagged.
Dr Blount also noted there are a limited number of listening stations to detect
acoustic tags. He considered this might not be clear to members of the public
who rely on websites that use this information about detected sharks. He
I have looked at the SharkSmart app and where I live at Long
Reef and where I surf there is no listening station. The nearest one, I think,
is Bondi. So it kind of gives a false sense of security. If you do not really
understand how the system works you look at your app and think, 'Well, there's
no shark been spotted in my area for a long time,' but that is because there is
no system in place to actually tell you if there is a shark there or not.
Mr Duncan Leadbitter, Director, Australian Aerial Patrol, made a similar
If you look at the tagging work, the general public would
think that all sharks have tags and there is a little beeper that goes off when
a shark comes close to the beach. In reality, very few sharks are tagged. There
are very few listening stations, and for the ones which are satellite tags,
they only work when the shark is on the surface. So these sorts of programs are
quite misleading from a beach safety viewpoint.
Mr John Heaton noted that a further limitation of the tracking apps is
that surfers will not be using them when surfing. He stated:
There is not much point in
having that SharkSmart app on your phone, when it is in your trouser pocket
locked in your car and you are out surfing, and the listening station goes off.
It is useless.
Mr Bennetto from Dorsal advised that, in response to this issue,
it unsuccessfully sought funding from the DPI to develop a wearable device
that provides users with real-time alerts. Mr Bennetto added that 'technology
still needs to play a little bit of catch-up for that to be seamless'.
Individuals may also not want to access information about shark
sightings before they enter the water. For example, when asked whether he used
New South Wales Government's Sharksmart program, Mr Daniel Webber responded:
No, I do not, and I do not want to know about it. I avoid
people on the way to the surf so I do not have sharks on my mind. It is not fun
thinking about sharks, and you try to keep busy. The worst thing that happens
is when the surf backs off, you are dangling for 20 minutes and you start to
think about it. Usually for me that is a downward spiral and within half an
hour I get out.
Whether the existence of multiple shark alert platforms, including those
operated by state governments, surf lifesaving organisations and Dorsal, is an
ideal arrangement was discussed. Mr Bennetto from Dorsal explained that Dorsal
was established after a spike in shark encounters and when he realised a
national register for surfers and other water users to check before entering
the water did not exist. In developing the Dorsal app, Mr Bennetto advised
that Dorsal contacted state fisheries departments and the state and national
surf lifesaving bodies in an attempt to collaborate with those organisations,
yet most of those efforts 'fell on deaf ears and we just went about doing
it ourselves'. Mr Bennetto remains of the view, however, that a national
platform to collate and disseminate shark information would be preferable to
the current arrangement. Mr Bennetto stated:
We have fallen into that platform by default, because there
is nothing available. But I think there is room for improvement with a much
more coordinated national approach and services. We need more stakeholders from
government, researchers, local communities and ultimately the water user.
Animal welfare concerns were also expressed regarding the tags. Mr Fred
Pawle submitted that 'there are reasons to believe that tags are not benign to
sharks'. He explained:
Most tags these days are surgically inserted. They emit
regular beeps and are powered by batteries. Many satellite tags, which can be
picked up anywhere on earth the shark breaches the ocean's surface, have suspiciously
disappeared soon after they have been attached. Researchers are strangely
incurious about the possibly malign effects they inflict. They are supposed to
be recording "natural" behaviour, yet there are reasons to imagine
they are significantly altering the behaviour of both the sharks and their
Dr Peter Kerkenezov, who discussed this issue extensively in his
submission, argued that:
It is...highly probable the
demeanour of most captured sharks, inserted with a 69 kHz abdominal V16
acoustic tag transmitting at 150–162 dB power output, is altered for the rest
of its pitifully shortened life span.
Associate Professor McPhee, however, submitted that animal welfare
issues associated with tagging 'can be dealt with through existing Animal
Finally, Professor Meeuwig expressed concern that, by tagging sharks,
researchers could potentially be endangering them by providing a means by which
the sharks could be tracked down and killed.
When questioned about this risk, Professor Nic Bax, CSIRO, acknowledged that as
many tagging devices belong to state governments potentially the information
could be used for this purpose. However, Professor Bax stressed that as only a
small proportion of the shark population is tagged 'the likelihood that a
tagged shark would be involved in one of those attacks is, correspondingly,
In the section on aerial surveillance earlier in this chapter, multispectral
and hyperspectral imagery was discussed as a form of detection technology that
may assist to overcome the difficulties associated with identifying sharks in
the water visually. A further category of detection technology being
developed for this purpose relies on sonar.
A product under development that uses sonar technology is Clever Buoy, which
is a device being commercialised by Shark Mitigation Systems with funding from
Google and investment from Optus.
Clever Buoy uses 'sonar technology coupled with tailored software to detect
shark sized objects'.
Both the New South Wales DPI and the Western Australian Department of Fisheries
have recently conducted in-water trials of the technology.
Mr Richard Talmage, who is the general manager of the business
developing Clever Buoy, explained that the technology does not utilise any
deterrent measures; rather, it is an early warning detection system that
facilitates information about sharks being disseminated to beach patrols and
the public. Mr Talmage stated:
Conceptually it works as a virtual shark net. We installed a
number of sonar transducers and on the seafloor to create a virtual shark net,
which is non‑invasive to marine life. It lets them come and go as they
please and provides an early warning system to beach authorities. It
differentiates based on the size and shape and swim pattern of the object
between different species. If it is determined to be highly likely to be a
shark, that information is passed on to the beach authorities.
On how the information about sharks can be disseminated to assist beach
safety efforts, Mr Talmage explained that, for metropolitan beaches with
volunteer or professional lifesaving services, the information can be
communicated directly to them. As with information about tagged sharks, the
sharks detected by Clever Buoy can also be made public via existing public
warning systems, such as the Western Australian Government's Sharksmart
program, which publishes information about sharks detected to the general
public via social media. For beaches in remote areas, Mr Talmage noted that
the information could be provided to the police or a ranger.
Mr Talmage used the recent trial at City Beach, Perth to provide an
overview of how the technology detects and reports sharks in practice:
Once an object enters the sonar's field of view, the software
looks at that object's size, shape and swim pattern and determines whether
there is a high probability that it is a shark. That happens within a few
seconds. It continues to track and monitor that object while it is in the
field of view of the sonar. As soon as we have detected an object that has a
high probability of being a shark our system does two things...An alert goes
straight through to the fisheries interface and that automatically goes out
through their smart shark network. An alert also goes directly into a closed
mobile application, so a lifeguard sitting on a beach or Surf Life Saving
Western Australia's head office in Balcatta both get a notification through a
mobile app...The mobile application will give them the size of the object and the
date and time that it was detected; so, within a few seconds, they have got
that information. We will also then geolocate the location of that object on a
map. Similar to a Google map view, they will get a pin on a map saying this is
where the object is. It will also show them the direction that object is
heading in—for example, if it is heading parallel to the beach, into the beach
or out to sea.
Dr Neff expressed concern that the limitations of products such as sonar
technology are not understood by the public. He argued that this technology
'can be heavily influenced by ocean conditions, swell, and may only be effective
at low‑energy beaches similar to Sydney Harbour'.
It was emphasised, however, that the technology is at a trial stage.
Mr Talmage explained that the City Beach trial had the following three key
objectives: to undertake an environmental factor assessment; to enable the
government to assess the stability and robustness of the technology; and to
assess the practical application of the technology, including by working with
the Department of Fisheries and Surf Life Saving Western Australia.
Some submitters that follow the development of emerging technologies
provided favourable comments about Clever Buoy. For example, the Australian
Marine Conservation Society submitted:
Clever Buoy is a rapid prototype, proof of concept R&D
project that aims to develop shark detection technology. They are smart ocean
buoys that detect large swimming objects, like sharks, and send real-time
valuable information to lifeguards on the beach. This technology has potential
to improve detection and communication in real time, particularly at peak
periods when large numbers of visitors visit the coast.
As a category of emerging technology generally, AIMS submitted that
systems intended to detect sharks could potentially be effective for
metropolitan beach environments. AIMS commented that if systems designed to
detect the presence of potentially dangerous sharks are coupled with a
cost-effective early warning system, this could 'shape up as the most effective
approach for minimizing human–shark interactions in these areas'.
The current expense associated with systems such as Clever Buoy was
noted, however. Dr Blount explained:
Clever Buoy has a lot of potential, but it is very focused on
a small area. Once you try and cover a whole beach or larger scale it is an
incremental unit cost of the unit to have them. Say, for Bondi they may need
10 units...it will be a lot of money. It will be in the hundreds of thousands
or the millions. That is just one beach. In terms of cost-effectiveness that is
something that has to be considered.
Mr Talmage countered that, as the system is a 'very new technology at
the moment' that is 'evolving rapidly with more research and development', the
costs are high at present but are expected to decrease over time. In
particular, Mr Talmage emphasised that the system is being procured in small
numbers (one to three units) at a high unit cost; if (or when) higher volumes are
procured, there would be 'a significant reduction in unit cost'. Mr
Talmage further argued that the cost of installing one Clever Buoy unit, which
would provide coverage for approximately 400 metres, is comparable to the
cost associated with installing and maintaining a shark net particularly once
the lower operational costs of the Clever Buoy are taken into account.
Beach enclosures and eco-barriers
As discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, shark nets cover a specific space but
do not provide a barrier between swimmers and surfers and potentially dangerous
sharks—they essentially are a passive fishing activity that removes sharks.
However, the committee received evidence regarding beach enclosures that
provide a physical barrier, including 'eco-friendly' barriers.
Generally, eco barriers are 'made from nylon, with a clip-together
interlocking mechanism hung between a nylon float line on the water surface and
an anchored line along the seabed'.
Global Marine Enclosures, which is a developer of beach enclosures, explained
that these products are intended to restrict large predators from entering the
enclosed area while 'allowing smaller species such as fish to pass freely
inside'. The nylon material prevents marine life from becoming entangled with
the barrier; Global Marine Enclosures advised that there 'has
never been any bycatch or entanglement in our beach enclosures'.
Another business involved in eco barriers, Sharksafe Barrier, explained
that its product:
...successfully bio-mimics the visual effects of a kelp forest
and combines this with a series of permanent magnetic (i.e. barium-ferrite
magnets) stimuli to form a visual and magnetic barrier that dissuades sharks
from passing through. It does not negatively affect any other marine life such
as seals or bony fishes that naturally utilize the kelp forest as effective
The key advantage of effective enclosures and barriers is that, for
areas of the coastline where they are suitable, they can provide bathers with
100 per cent protection from sharks.
Global Marine Enclosures emphasised that, not only are its products effective
in suitable conditions at keeping sharks away from beach users, they 'give
ocean users confidence and peace-of-mind as they provide a physical barrier
that can be seen'. Global Marine Enclosures continued:
The point here is that a measure that increases actual safety
without increasing perceived safety will lead to a suboptimal outcome as people
will not enjoy the benefits of the ocean environment. The two must be achieved
together, which is a key advantage that physical structures (beach enclosures)
have over electrical, sonar, light pulse, and other experimental measures.
Global Marine Enclosures argued that this benefit is proven by evidence
that beach enclosures 'attract more people to the beach, including locals,
visitors and tourists, who previously were not using the beach', with
consequential benefits for businesses associated with coastal tourism. Global
Marine Enclosures acknowledged that the extent of these economic benefits is unknown
and suggested that further research on this matters would be valuable.
Eco barriers attracted support from environmental groups provided that
the design of the barriers does not negatively affect marine life.
Shark barriers are used successfully at Coogee Beach and Sorrento Beach
in Western Australia.
The Mayor of the City of Joondalup, which includes Sorrento Beach, described
the barrier there as being 'a significant success'. He explained:
We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people using
Sorrento Beach as a safe swimming destination. They are not only from our
community; there are a significant number of people coming from outside the
city of Joondalup. Sorrento Beach is a very popular beach anyway, but we now
have an asset in our city that is attracting visitations from other local
governments across the metropolitan area. The northern corridor of Perth has a
high proportion of immigrants—40 per cent of our community were born
overseas—and many of them are not competent and comfortable in the ocean, so it
provides them with peace of mind. Not only is there a surf club with an
appropriate lifeguard on duty, but indeed there is now a beach enclosure.
The New South Wales Government attempted trials of eco-friendly shark
barriers at two beaches on the north coast. The Ballina Lighthouse &
Lismore Surf Life Saving Club explained that the community supported the
barrier as it was intended to provide whole of beach protection.
However, as the manufacturers 'were unable to safely and effectively
install the barriers', the trials were discontinued in 2016.
Dr Blount from Cardno commented on why conditions at the beaches chosen
for the New South Wales trial were unsuitable for eco barriers, and indeed why
many New South Wales beaches may be unsuitable. He explained:
One of the special things about New South Wales is that it is
a high-energy environment. There is quite a lot of swell. A greater than
three-metre sized swell is pretty common, and you really need to have something
that is capable of staying out there for a long time. You just have to look at
the Pasha Bulker—ships actually wash up on the shore in New South Wales,
so it is important that these things have durability.
On the failed New South Wales north coast trial, Australian Seabird
Eco Shark Barriers were placed in areas that were not
suitable as a trial at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina and Seven Mile Beach in
Lennox Head. The barrier that was attempted to be installed at Seven Mile
Beach at Lennox Head was far from an eco barrier. [Australian Seabird Rescue]
received many pieces of nylon rope and plastic ties and buoys that had come
loose from the barrier that were delivered to us from members of the public,
that had been found on the beach. This created a hazard for marine wildlife and
was an eyesore.
Australian Seabird Rescue explained that it would welcome a new trial in
areas 'not so affected by currents, waves and sand movements'.
Some submitters were optimistic that the challenges associated with
placing eco-barriers at high-energy beaches, including surf beaches, could be
overcome. HSI submitted:
A beach enclosure design funded by the French Government has
been trialled at surf beaches on Reunion Island, with mixed results. Our first
surf beach trial at Lennox Head in August 2016 proved unsuccessful due to
installation challenges and dynamic sand movements affecting the barrier near
the seabed. These issues were addressed in the design and installation
methodology of the successful Quinns Beach project. The upgrades have been
significant and we believe a second surf beach trial is warranted.
In addition to the current challenges associated with successfully using
eco barriers at high-energy beaches, a view among several submitters is
that while eco barriers may be a suitable solution for bathers, there may
have continued limitations for surfers due to the nature of the surfing
activity. For example,
Dr Blount told the committee:
It is very difficult, in terms of the systems I have looked
at, to come up with something that will protect surfers. A lot of them surf
around headlands, not along the beaches themselves. There are all sorts of
challenges with getting a system to operate around headlands as well as the
Associate Professor McPhee added that surfers 'do not necessarily want
them—and for very good reason; they interrupt surfers'.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries noted that other
uncertainties of eco barriers at present 'include the ability to withstand
multiple years of deployment and the potential escalating costs of cleaning of
bio-fouling from marine growth'.
Dr Blount added that the barrier systems can be expensive, costing up to $1
million to install 'for one small beach or a part of a beach'.
Nevertheless, there was significant support for eco barriers to be
maintained or trialled at suitable locations, and for continued research to
improve the technology. For example, HSI submitted:
We suggest that further research be conducted to explore the
effectiveness of eco-barriers in locations across Australia. Eco-barriers have
proven to be effective for WA beaches. Northern QLD could be a suitable
location for these barriers, due to the nature of wave action and a lack of
surfing beaches. In particular, Eco-barriers would be an ideal replacement for
nets and drumlines within the GBRMP, and use of these should be explored in
locations that would be suitable in NSW and Southern QLD instead of lethal
Dr Sharon Burden also expressed support for measures such as eco
barriers that isolate children from sharks and do not create other risks, such
Personal and 'whole of beach' deterrent and protection products
There is a wide range of personal deterrents utilising emerging shark
deterrent and detection technologies. These deterrents and other protection
devices that are currently available or under development include chemicals
intended to repel sharks, camouflage wetsuits and surfboards intended to
disrupt shark vision, a protective Kevlar wetsuit, and electric deterrents and
Although other deterrent products were drawn to the committee's attention and
their efficacy discussed,
electric deterrent products such as Shark Shield and RPELA were the subject of detailed
examination during this inquiry.
Overview of products
Shark Shield is a range of personal electrical deterrents developed by a
Western Australian company of the same name. Shark Shield takes advantage of
small, short-range electrical receptors in shark snouts which are used for
finding food. The electromagnetic field generated by Shark Shield is intended
to cause 'unbearable spasms in these sensitive sensors which turn sharks away'.
At the committee's first Perth public hearing, Mr Lindsay Lyon, Managing
Director, Shark Shield, provided further details about the technology utilised
by Shark Shield. Mr Lyon stated:
The way this works is that sharks have little gel-filled sacs
they use to find food at close range, in the same way you and I use touch; they
have to be that close. That is as well as sight, sound and all those things
that they have. What this does is to create a very powerful electric field, so
these little gel-filled sacs that they have, which are expecting to feel
electrical field from a heartbeat or that kind of thing, get near this powerful
electric field—if you could see it, it is about six metres by three metres and
looks like a football—and it causes them to spasm and turns them away.
After Mr Lyon advised that the technology uses a direct current of 100
volts, he explained:
Even though that sounds like a lot, it is actually not a lot
because you are in the water and you have a big body of water to spread that
over. If you touch it, it gives you a shock. Think of it as more than a static
electricity shock but significantly less than an electric fence shock.
Interestingly, a lot of people reach around and grab it to know it is working.
It gives them confidence. In fact—I now use this on my board all the time—every
now and again, if I cannot feel it, I reach around to touch it and go: 'Yeah,
it's working. It's okay.' It is sort of like a 'Listerine burns my mouth, so it
must be good for me' kind of thing.
Evidence was also received about another shark deterrent product for
surfboards known as RPELA. Mr David Smith, who manages the company that
develops RPELA, advised that the product is cost-effective and has the
additional benefits of not affecting 'the way the board performs, and the
surfers do not get affected by its electromagnetic field'.
The committee was advised that RPELA would be subject to independent testing,
with trials to be conducted in August or September 2017.
Shark Shield attracted support from Associate Professor McPhee, who
described it as a product that has been 'independently and scientifically
tested' and which has been 'shown to significantly reduce the risk of a bite,
but not eliminate it entirely'.
The associate professor explained that:
In controlled experiments, when the Shark Shield was switched
off—so when the sealed decoy was switched off; and this was in a high
white shark area adjacent to a seal colony in South Africa, from memory—there
was a 90 per cent chance of a bite. When it was switched on there was a
16 per cent chance of a bite. So scientifically there is a
statistically significant reduction in risk from a Shark Shield. Is it zero?
No. But the manufacturers, from my understanding, have never said it is zero,
but there is a statistically significant reduction in risk—down from 90 per
cent to 16 per cent. It is going to be a long time before anything
improves on that.
Associate Professor McPhee commented that:
There may be other electric individual deterrents that can
also be shown to be effective, but they have not been subjected to independent
and rigorously designed testing to demonstrate that this is the case.
As noted above, research has concluded that, in a test where sharks were
allowed access to bait for a 10-minute period, the use of Shark Shield reduced
the probability of a shark bite from 90 per cent to 16 per cent. That personal
deterrents such as Shark Shield are not 100 per cent effective, however, was
commented on by several witnesses. Dr Blount from Cardno observed that the
product 'changes the behaviour of sharks so it reduces the potential for a
shark to come closer to a person more than if you did not have one on'. He
added that the user might still be attacked if they are wearing a Shark Shield
'but there is less chance of that happening'.
Dr Christopher Neff similarly noted that electronic shark deterrents do
not provide guaranteed protection against shark bites, and stated that
'research suggests that much depends on the motives of the shark'.
It was also acknowledged that, at present, certain personal electrical
deterrents are not appropriate for children. With respect to the Shark Shield
product, Mr Lyon advised:
You cannot apply it to very small boards, so it actually does
not work for young children and teenagers. The smaller the board the more the
electrical field is likely to come around the board and interfere with the
However, evidence was received indicating that other products, such as
RPELA, might be more suitable for children. 
Dr Blount also noted that personal deterrents do not provide
'whole-of-beach' scale protection.
Following the committee's April hearings, however, Shark Shield announced a pre‑production
release of a long-range version of its technology that could repel sharks up to
a range of 100 metres away. It is intended that the technology, known as Ocean
Guardian, will be subject to independent scientific testing.
The committee is also aware of a shark repellent cable developed in
South Africa by the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board. At present, a 100 metre cable
that emits a low frequency pulsed electronic signal is being tested in Cape
Media reports in August 2017, however, suggest that the Western Australian
Government has been in discussions with the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board
regarding a trial of the cable at Cottesloe Beach.
Role of government in relation to
emerging commercial products
Electrical shark deterrents have attracted the attention of state
governments. For example:
the New South Wales DPI is monitoring emerging technology such as
'the development of electronic shark deterrents...to determine their
effectiveness and suitability';
as noted in Chapter 3, the Western Australian Government is
trialling a program where rebates of $200 are available for independently
verified devices purchased by surfers and divers. By September 2017,
approximately 630 individuals had accessed the rebate.
Several submitters and witnesses reflected upon what should be the role
of government in relation to personal deterrents developed by the private
sector. Some submitters argued that governments should invest in these
personal products rather than spending money on lethal measures. For example,
Australia for Dolphins is of the view that:
...the government should be investing in emerging shark
mitigation and deterrent measures...rather than continuing with out-dated
techniques such as shark meshing and drumlines.
Ms Claudette Rechtorik, Manager, SEA LIFE Trust Australia/New Zealand,
noted that surfers, divers and snorkelers are at a higher risk of encountering
a shark. Accordingly, Ms Rechtorik argued that the $16 million associated with
the New South Wales shark management strategy instead could be used to
subsidise electrical deterrents for these individuals.
Ms Belinda Atkins, Manager, Projects and Programs, Sydney Coastal Councils
Group, suggested that government subsidies could be directed to a hire program
for personal deterrent devices, which would be available to individuals
undertaking activities that may expose them to a greater risk of encountering a
shark than other ocean users, such as surfers.
It was argued that there is a need to consider how to encourage greater
uptake of independently tested personal deterrents,
such as promoting such devices in public safety campaigns.
Related to this, submitters and witnesses suggested that there is a role for
government in assisting consumers to understand which products may be effective
and to encourage individuals to use them. Dr Blount from Cardno, who advocated for
this approach, argued it is particularly important for individuals 'in remote
areas away from unpatrolled beaches where there is very little protection for
bathers and surfers...to make good use of the personal protection devices in
areas that the government cannot really cover through its existing programs'.
Associate Professor McPhee (and others), emphasised that it is not the
role of a government to endorse or promote particular products. Notwithstanding
this, Associate Professor McPhee argued that governments do have a role in
ensuring that 'consumers are fully informed on products designed to enhance
human safety'. He added:
Fully informing consumers should include identifying that a
product has been independently tested by scientists, the type of shark species
that it has been tested on, the spatial area over which a product is likely to
be effective, and any other factors that may substantially influence
effectiveness in a given circumstance (e.g. murky water).
Noting that there is currently 'intense commercial activity in
individual deterrents', Associate Professor McPhee emphasised that credible
independent scientific testing is necessary for consumers to identify which
products are reliable. The associate professor noted that in the market there
...a lot of false claims and a lack of full disclosure of
limitations in a form that is easily accessible for consumers. Further, there
appears to be a reluctance by some manufacturers to subject their products to
independent scientific testing. If money can be spent on substantial marketing
of products, money can be spent on scientific testing. There is much
"Science by YouTube". At least one manufacturer actively filters and
removes any criticism or hard questions from their social media profile.
Both Shark Shield and the manufacturer of RPELA emphasised the need for
products to be subject to scientific testing. Shark Shield suggested that shark
deterrent products are entering the market without being supported by
independent research, which undermines 'the consumers' confidence in the
product category'. Mr Lyon stated that in the shark deterrent product category
'a consumer today has no idea whether they are buying something that has or has
not been peer reviewed or is complete and utter snake oil—and, honestly, some
of them are'.
Shark Shield suggested that an Australian Standard for shark deterrent
products is required to assist consumers to make informed purchases.
Shark Shield observed that other safety products designed to reduce risk, such
as seat belts and bicycle helmets, are subject to regulated minimum standards.
Mr Lyon remarked:
If you have an Australian standard for bike helmets you can
go into a store and buy a bike helmet and have a degree of confidence that it
will do what it is claimed to do.
At a subsequent hearing, Mr Lyon hinted at difficulties in identifying
where products such as Shark Shield 'would fit within Australian standards at
this point in time'. As an alternative, Mr Lyon suggested a process could be
developed by which manufactures would self-declare, by statutory declaration,
whether their product meets certain government-endorsed criteria.
AIMS noted, however, that it is difficult to test deterrent technology
as 'humans cannot be used in tests, and simulating human interaction scenarios
Associate Professor McPhee, who emphasised that the government has a role in
ensuring that deterrent products are suitable for that purpose, commented that
an Australian Standard 'would be tricky because of the diversity of approaches'.
Professor Nic Bax, CSIRO, recognised that there appears to be
uncertainty in the community about 'how some of the shark deterrent devices
work, how well they work and in what situations they would work'. Professor Bax
argued that 'Australian citizens would profit from having some clear advice
which came from an authoritative body'. When considering what role CSIRO could
have in supporting such a process, Professor Bax commented:
I think CSIRO is open to how that body would be constructed,
and we would certainly, I believe, support it. It's not necessarily our role to
run that body, but I imagine that CSIRO would be happy to discuss with the
appropriate groups to see what our role would be. We would be quite open, I
think, to what our role would be.
Professor Bax continued by providing the following evidence on the
issues that need to be addressed to improve consumer confidence in the product
I think there are two
issues...One is testing the devices to understand how they work. The other is
reviewing what testing has occurred and whether the claims made by
manufacturers actually are supported by the evidence they provide. I think our
position has been: actually, it is very difficult to test these devices
because, of course, fortunately shark attacks are quite rare. As I understand
it...a lot of testing is done in South Africa, where they have a more clear
aggregation of white sharks they can test against.
So I would say that the role of an Australian group in this
would not be to test these different devices; it would be to review whether the
testing has been appropriate and whether the manufacturers' claims are backed
up by evidence. 
Professor Bax suggested that a process for reviewing the scientific
testing of deterrent devices could be a technical advisory group, reporting to
a department or a minister, modelled on the stock assessment groups used by the
Australian Fisheries Management Authority in fisheries management.
Consumer support for the product
Finally, it is necessary to consider the degree to which consumers, and
in particular frequent water uses such as surfers, will use products such as
electric personal deterrents.
Overall views on the potential of these products differ. For example,
Dr Sharon Burden highlighted how these products support personal
responsibility. Dr Burden commented that surfers who purchase a surfboard
and wetsuit should also 'be able to budget for personal protective devices'. Dr
Burden continued this line of argument by equating equated personal deterrents
with protective equipment required for other activities that involve an aspect
If a surfer says, 'I can't afford it,' to me that is like
when my son wanted to get his motorbike licence. I would never have allowed him
to get on a motorbike without a helmet or the best boots I could put on my
credit card for him. I even went so far as to get him one of those Kevlar
jackets, even though I couldn't afford it. I said, 'I'm going to kit you out in
everything. My expectation is that you will wear them. If I see you on that
motorbike on your learner plates without them, there will be trouble.'
The cost associated with personal devices, however, may limit take-up by
tourists, other occasional beachgoers and families with multiple surfers.
Occasional minor electric shock is another issue that users of
particular products currently on the market encounter; some will tolerate the
shocks, although others may decide to discontinue using the product because of
them. Mr Daniel Webber told the committee:
My experience...is I was really not confident in the initial
experience of Shark Shield. I thought there was no way I am going to be able to
surf and enjoy my surfing with these electric shocks. It seems bizarre, but
after 10 or 12 surfs now I am actually used to it. It is because the benefit is
that I am getting to surf plenty of waves and having fun. The disadvantage is
getting zapped a couple of times—some of the shocks are quite nasty—but the
benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
However, other evidence received by the committee also reveals a broader
issue in that some surfers may not be interested in personal deterrents,
regardless of their effectiveness. Mr Webber provided the following
Oddly enough, among the hardcore surfers—and they are the
ones that are surfing most regularly—almost none of them have it [Shark Shield].
There are definitely a lot of them in the area, but I think that they are
mainly the surfers who are not surfing as frequently. I apply the 80-20 rule,
which I think really does make a lot of sense: that 20 per cent of the
surfers surf 80 per cent of the time. I am pretty sure that this group
that I am familiar with—and we are mainly surfing at Lighthouse Beach—I do not
think any of them have it. It is not like I have asked everyone. I see them
after surfs and they do not have it attached to their board. I think the
attitude among this crew is to simply take the risk and just get on with your
Furthermore, some submitters and witnesses were sceptical about the
current state of the product category. For example, Dr Meynecke, who
stated that he prefers education and community outreach strategies over
personal shark deterrent products, commented that he is 'concerned about some
of the companies that are clearly making money out of this but not necessarily
in the interest of the individual or of the public'.
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