SharkSmart drone trial
Drones are used to monitor Queensland beaches to detect sharks and gather data on shark movements and behaviour. If a dangerous shark is spotted by drone, lifesavers and lifeguards can warn water users and temporarily close the beach if required.
Drones operate at the following beaches
- Gold Coast – Burleigh Beach, Kurrawa Beach, Main Beach
- Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) – Main Beach
- Sunshine Coast – Alexandra Headland, Coolum North, Noosa Main Beach
- Cooloola Coast – Rainbow Beach
- Townsville region – Alma Bay (Magnetic Island)
- Woorim Beach Bribie Island (summer holidays only)
You can visit the interactive map to see where drones are located.
Drones operate on weekends, public holidays and Queensland school holidays. Hours of operation vary depending on weather conditions, but usually drone flights start when beach patrol opens in the morning, and drones fly twice every hour, until around midday. Each flight is approximately 20 minutes.
At Woorim Beach on Bribie Island, drones operate during the summer school holidays only.
To find out whether drones are operating, look for the drone operator, signage and the landing/take-off zone marked out on the beach.
The SharkSmart drone trial is part of the Queensland Government’s investment in trials of alternative shark mitigation technology, to determine what may be suitable for Queensland coastal conditions.
The SharkSmart drone trial is operated by Surf Life Saving Queensland drone pilots. Pilots hold a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) and follow Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirements. All flights are subject to weather conditions. Pilots follow a set flight plan for each beach, which allows drone footage from different flights to be compared on a like-for-like basis.
What happens if a shark is spotted
If a potentially dangerous shark is spotted:
- the drone flies lower and follows the shark
- lifesavers and lifeguards can evacuate the water if required
The SharkSmart drone trial aims to:
- detect sharks that could pose a threat to swimmers
- warn swimmers of potentially dangerous sharks detected by drones in real time
- monitor and record species, size and behaviour of sharks spotted by drones
- test the capability of artificial intelligence software and advanced camera technologies to identify sharks in Queensland coastal conditions.
- Drones provide a bird's eye view of the ocean and what's happening beneath the surface - compared to traditional monitoring by lifesavers. and lifeguards from beach towers or water craft.
- Drones are most cost effective than other beach aerial monitoring, such as helicopter flights.
- The impact on marine life is negligible.
- Real-time monitoring means lifesavers and lifeguards can respond rapidly if a shark or other marine risk is spotted.
- Drones improve overall beach safety through monitoring marine threats or assisting with rescues.
- Drones cannot operate in poor weather (strong winds, rain or storms).
- Drones cannot be operated in restricted airspace—this impacts some beaches near airports.
- Drone monitoring requires highly skilled operators and is labour intensive.
- Drones are less effective in areas with murky waters, such as some North Queensland beaches.
Unlike helicopters, planes or larger drones, the drones used in the SharkSmart drone trial are very quiet and do not create excessive noise that would affect local residents or beach goers.
Apart from taking off and landing on the beach, drones are deployed to fly over water, well away from nearby residents.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in partnership with SLSQ uses drones to collect aerial footage for research into the effectiveness of drones as a shark bite mitigation tool.
Images of people may be captured incidentally by video during the trial. Cameras on drones are directed to monitor the ocean, not people on the beach or nearby residences. Video recording is switched off during drone take-off and landing on the beach.
Sometimes video footage may be released publicly via the SharkSmart website or media for education and communication purposes. Any video footage or photographs released publicly will be carefully reviewed and individuals will be de-identified through blurring or cropping the footage.
Video and images will only be used for these purposes and will not otherwise be used or disclosed unless authorised or required by law. Your personal information will be handled in accordance with the Information Privacy Act 2009. For more information or to make a privacy complaint, visit our privacy page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first phase of the SharkSmart drone trial has concluded.
- South East Queensland trial from September 2020 to October 2021 across six beaches (Sunshine Coast region—Coolum North, Alexandra Headland; Gold Coast region—Main Beach, Burleigh Beach; North Stradbroke Island—Main Beach; Townsville region – Alma Bay, Magnetic Island)
- North Queensland trial from June 2021 to October 2021. across two beaches (Cairns region—Palm Cove; Townsville region—Alma Bay, Magnetic Island).
Drones also flew over the summer school holidays from 11 December 2021 to 30 January 2022 in South-East Queensland while the first phase of the trial was under evaluation.
An evaluation report on the trial is available. Some key findings from the report include:
- A total of 3,669 drone flights were conducted, covering 1,468km.
- A total of 174 sharks were sighted, including 48 large sharks estimated at over 2m in length.
- North Stradbroke Island had the highest sighting rate, followed by Burleigh Beach.
- On most occasions the pilots were able to track sharks as they passed through the area with no impact to beach users.
- On four occasions the beach was evacuated and closed temporarily to manage the risk to beach users.
- A number of other species were observed, including turtles, manta rays and eagle rays. At North Stradbroke Island marine animals were seen on 82% of all flights.
What we heard
- We received 751 responses to a market research survey, 233 responses to a community online survey and 1,761 responses to a community online quick poll.
- 83–98% of respondents supported drones as a shark spotting tool in Queensland.
- 75% of community survey respondents said they are likely to choose a beach with a shark-spotting drone.
- Reasons given for supporting drones include that they ensure swimmer safety, don’t endanger marine life and are a smart use of technology.
Find out more
To find out more about the SharkSmart drone trial, contact us on email@example.com or call 13 25 23.
- finding out how we catch and detect sharks
- reading about the catch alert drumline trial
- viewing the maps of shark control equipment in Queensland
- joining our mailing list for our newsletter
- read our Queensland Shark Management Plan 2021-2025.
Last updated: 16 Nov 2022