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SharkSmart drone trial

The Queensland Government and Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) are partnering to deliver the SharkSmart drone trial.

Drones operated by Surf Life Saving Queensland monitor the water to detect sharks and gather data on shark movements and behaviour. If a dangerous shark is spotted, lifesavers and lifeguards will warn water users and temporarily close the beach if needed.

After launching in South East Queensland in September 2020, the trial expanded to North Queensland in June 2021.

Locations

South East Queensland (19 September 2020 to 4 October 2021):

  • Sunshine Coast region—Coolum North, Alexandra Headland
  • Gold Coast region—Main Beach, Burleigh Beach
  • North Stradbroke Island – Main Beach

North Queensland (June 2021 to November 2021):

  • Cairns region – Palm Cove
  • Townsville region – Alma Bay, Magnetic Island

The trial may be extended or expanded to additional beaches in Queensland.

There will be no changes to the configuration of nets and drumlines during this trial.

Duration

The trial began on 19 September 2020 and will continue until 4 October 2021 (the end of the spring school holidays). This page will be updated with details of the trial duration.

The trial may be extended to additional beaches, including in north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, based on initial results.

Timing

Drones will begin operating when beach patrols begin each morning and fly every 30 minutes until midday. Drones will fly every weekend and public holiday, plus every day during Queensland school holidays, subject to weather and wind conditions.

Trial aims

The SharkSmart drone trial aims to:

  • proactively and accurately 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 to identify sharks in Queensland coastal conditions.

Using drones to spot sharks

Benefits

  • 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 via 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.

Limitations

  • Drones cannot operate in poor weather (strong winds, rain or storms).
  • Drones cannot operate in restricted airspace—this impacts some beaches near airports.
  • Drone monitoring requires highly skilled operators and is labour intensive.

If a shark is spotted:

If a potentially dangerous shark (over 2 m in length) is spotted near swimmers:

  • the drone will fly lower and follow the shark
  • lifesavers and lifeguards will assess the level of risk
  • if there is a high risk, a warning alarm will sound and the water will be evacuated.

Monitoring and evaluation

Key data from drone trial operations - 19 September 2020 to 31 July 2021 inclusive.

Region Dates of operation

Number of drone flights

Total distance flown

Average flight time

Number of sharks spotted

Number of beach evacuations^

Other fauna sighted

South East Queensland (Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, North Stradbroke Island) 19 September 2020 to 31 August 2021

3,051

1,220km

19min

177 (including 33 large sharks which were estimated to be more than 2m in length)

4 (at North Stradbroke Island and Burleigh Beach)

  • Dolphins
  • Bait fish
  • Large fish (tuna, mackerel)
  • Sea birds
  • Turtles
  • Rays (stingrays, manta rays, eagle rays, shovelnose rays)
North Queensland (Palm Cove and Alma Bay)Palm Cove - 12 to 31 August 2021
Alma Bay - 26 to 31 August 2021
16365km17min00
  • Turtles
  • Stingrays
  • Manta Rays
  • Large fish (tuna, mackeral)

^ Lifesavers and lifeguards will evacuate and temporarily close the beach if a large shark could pose a threat to swimmers.

Community feedback

Between February and April 2021 we asked for feedback from the community on their perceptions toward drones as a shark spotting tool.

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.
  • Between 83 and 98 per cent of respondents supported drones as a shark spotting tool in Queensland.
  • 75 per cent of community survey respondents said they are likely to choose a beach with a shark spotting drone.
  • Reasons for supporting drones include that they ensure swimmer safety, don’t endanger marine life and are a smart use of technology.

More information

Privacy

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in partnership with Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) is using drones to collect aerial footage for research into the effectiveness of drones as a shark bite mitigation tool. Images of people may be incidentally be captured 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.

From time to time, 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 scp@daf.qld.gov.au.

Frequently asked questions

  • SLSQ uses DJI Mavic 2 enterprise drones in the trial.

  • SLSQ pilots operate to Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirements and each hold a remotely piloted aircraft operator’s certificate (ReOC) from CASA.

    Prior to each drone flight, the drone pilots undertake a safety assessment including reviewing weather and wind conditions. Drones will not be used if conditions are unsafe.

  • The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requires that drones must take off and land a minimum of 30 metres away from people on the beach. This is why SLSQ drone pilots mark off a large area around the drone take-off and landing position. It’s important for people to stay away from the drone take-off and landing zone – do not walk through or sit inside it.

  • Drones are flown at no more than 120 metres high and no further than 250 metres from the drone take-off and landing zone. Drones generally fly at a height of 60 metres while monitoring the water. If the drone pilot sees something in the water they may drop the drone lower to get a better view.

    Drone pilots maintain line of sight of the drone and must be able to clearly see the drone at all times.

  • A drone flight plan has been developed for each beach in the SharkSmart drone trial. Each drone flight will follow the flight plan, which includes flying along defined transects along the coastline. Following a set flight plan at each beach will enable drone footage from different flights to be compared on a like-for-like basis.

  • Drones are used first and foremost to help protect swimmers. If a drone is following a flight path but the drone pilot spots another issue such as a swimmer in danger, the drone will divert from the flight plan to monitor and assist.

  • The DJI Mavic 2 enterprise drones used in the trial are very quiet.

    We do not expect local residents to notice excessive noise from drones during the trial. Apart from taking off and landing on the beach, drones are deployed to fly over water well away from nearby residences.

  • Drones will operate from the opening of beach patrols in the morning until midday. At this stage, drones will not operate in the afternoons because the prevailing south east Queensland weather conditions usually bring wind and rough weather in the afternoons and evenings. Drones are unable to fly in windy conditions or when water visibility is poor due to turbid or rough conditions.

    The times of days drones operate may be altered in the future depending on the outcomes of the trial.

  • Video footage recorded during the Shark Smart drone trial is being captured for scientific purposes and is not publicly released unless required under law.

    From time to time, footage may be released as part of communication and education opportunities, however any individuals included in the footage would be blurred to protect their privacy and identity.

  • Please contact your local SLSQ club or visit the Surf Life Saving Queensland website (http://lifesaving.com.au/) for more information on opportunities to get involved.

  • If we haven’t answered your question on this page, please contact the SharkSmart drone trial team on scp@daf.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23.

More information

Contact the Shark Control Program team at scp@daf.qld.gov.au or call us on 13 25 23.

Last updated: 02 Aug 2021