Skip to content

SharkSmart drone trial

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

View our fact sheet (PDF, 1.5MB) for key details of the SharkSmart drone trial.


Initially at 5 beaches in southern Queensland:

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

The trial may be extended to additional beaches based on the trial results throughout spring and summer.

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


Initially from September 2020 to 26 January 2021 inclusive (end of the summer school holidays).

The trial may be extended to additional beaches in north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.


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.


Drones operated by SLSQ drone pilots will monitor the water to detect sharks and gather data on shark movements and behaviour. If a dangerous shark is spotted, drone pilots will notify the life savers on patrol to warn water users and temporarily close the beach if needed.

Monitoring and evaluation

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

Number of drone flights Total distance flown Average flight time Number of sharks spotted Number of beach evacuations^ Other fauna sighted
1,126 450km 19min60 (including 9 large sharks which were estimated to be more than 2m in length) 2 (at North Stradbroke Island)
  • Dolphins
  • Bait fish
  • Large fish (tuna, mackerel)
  • Sea birds
  • Turtles
  • Rays (stingrays, manta rays, eagle rays, shovelnose rays)

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


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

Frequently asked questions

  • What type of drones are used in the trial?

    SLSQ uses DJI Mavic 2 enterprise drones in the trial.

  • Do the drone pilots have qualifications and follow safety requirements?

    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.

  • Why is there so much space blocked off on the beach around the drone take-off and landing zone?

    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.

  • How high and how far do the drones fly?

    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.

  • How are the drones used to detect sharks and other marine threats?

    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.

  • What happens if the drone spots a risk other than a shark, such as a swimmer in danger?

    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.

  • Will the drones create excess noise for residents who live near the beaches included in the trial?

    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.

  • How have you determined the days and times drones will operate?

    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.

  • I think the drone videoed me in the water and I’d love to see the footage, can you share it with me?

    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.

  • How can I become a Surf Life Saving Queensland drone pilot?

    Please contact your local SLSQ club or visit the Surf Life Saving Queensland website ( for more information on opportunities to get involved.

  • How can I find out more or ask questions about this trial?

    If we haven’t answered your question on this page, please contact the SharkSmart drone trial team on or call 13 25 23.

More information

Contact the Shark Control Program team at or call us on 13 25 23.

Last updated: 17 Dec 2020