Drones at our beaches providing safety for swimmers

What's that in the sky?: One of the drones patrols from above Flynns Beach during the recent school holidays. Photo: Alex McNaught / www.roving-eye.com

What's that in the sky?: One of the drones patrols from above Flynns Beach during the recent school holidays. Photo: Alex McNaught / www.roving-eye.com

A DEAD whale at Nobbys Beach in Port Macquarie at the start of the holiday season heightened fears sharks would be attracted to some of the region’s most popular swimming spots.

To alleviate concerns, a drone program was launched.

Surf Life Saving NSW’s offer of assistance was accepted by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council (PMHC) to deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to the area over the holiday period and was a positive success according to head lifeguard James Turnham.

“On the first or second day two sharks were spotted after patrol and they weren’t near swimmers, so there was no threat. Other than that there were no other sharks spotted,” he said.

“I think it was definitely worth doing, for peace of mind for the community more than anything. People came up while the drones were operating and said they felt a lot safer knowing that something was up there watching for any potential threats.”

The four Port Macquarie lifeguards who operated the drones said they enjoyed it.

“It’s something different and out of the ordinary for us to do,” Mr Turnham said. 

“It’s another tool in our arsenal that we can use when we need it.”

Aerial surveillance was provided every day over the two week period by the Little Ripper Lifesaver group through a partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW.

Photo: Alex McNaught / www.roving-eye.com

Photo: Alex McNaught / www.roving-eye.com

The UAVs were operated by Lifeguards who have been trained locally at the Little Ripper Aviation Academy located in the SLSNSW Operations Centre in Port Macquarie, adding another notch to their skills belt.

UAVs are conducting regular patrols and monitoring the coastline to ensure the safety of beach-goers and visitors to the area.

Surf Life Saving NSW has partnered with Little Ripper Lifesaver over the last 18 months to trial UAV technology for use in aerial surveillance including shark spotting, search and rescue and deploying floatation devices to swimmers in trouble.

More recently a SharkSpotter algorithm has been developed which enables instant identification of anything in the water, be it a ski paddler, surfer, boat, dolphin, whale or shark.

The SharkSpotter technology can differentiate a shark from other objects or marine creatures, hover over it sending live video back to operators on the beach.

There has been widespread public support for the initiative with tourists and locals heading to the beach to take a look at the UAV technology in action.

It remains to be seen whether the drones will continue to be used on busy days or during the next holiday period.

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