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Solving the shark problem

Byron Bay is a marine park sanctuary. Its the marine equivalent of Africa's Serengeti, although quite a bit smaller! This fact really hit me when I first started having a go at solving the shark problem for our beautiful corner of the world.

The beaut thing about wildlife parks is that you can see the Lions and Leopards at a distance before they get close. You can jump out of the car, take photos, enjoy the landscape and feel safe.


When the dangerous wildlife is a half kilometre off you can start moving back to your car... at 100 metres you can start the engine and close the windows and then move if you have to... but the healthy respect for wild animals is not terrifying.

Now if that Lion or Leopard was somewhere in a sea of tall grass, and you had no idea if it was 3 metres away or a kilometre... now that's scary.

And this is the problem with sharks. They are beautiful, powerful animals, but when they sneak up on you there is not much you can do.... and when great whites come from deep water at 40-50km/hr there is not much chance for you, whether you are wearing a magnetic bracelet of a high powered electromagnetic shark repelling system!

So the mandate of the solution I am working on with the help of Lara Alberd from my office and the energetic and enthusiastic Kirra Pendergast, is to let people know when sharks are nearby and then let them get back in the water as soon as it is safe.

I first started talking to Byron's Mayor Simon Richardson about the shark problem  some time ago after we lost our neighbour to a shark attack at Clarke's beach just in front of the Beach Cafe in pretty shallow water.

What a good man he is.

With limited resources we talked about the problem and explored possibilities. What came out of those discussions were really good principles. For example having quadracopters following Lion prides around the countryside may be safe but it is just a painful exercise and expensive. UAV's, Jetski's and helicopter surveillance are the marine equivalent and  they all just send the wrong message... they remind people that something dangerous may be out there.

Nets are even worse. What use is a wildlife sanctuary where the fences can't tell the difference between dangerous animals and everything else. According to public information from the government 84,800 animals have been ensnared in Queenslands shark net system. Since there are only approximately 1,100 great whites on the east coast of Australia according to the CSIRO and since Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks represent the main danger to humans, then Netting is a pretty horrendous way to solve the problem. Netting would make Byron Bay an aquatic moonscape.

There is a lot in the design we are working on but the most important features are to detect when a shark is nearby, inform people and then allow them to get back into the water and enjoying themselves as soon as the wildlife has passed by. And to do this discreetly, without making a big deal. No big floating bouys dominating every photo of the Bay!

At this time we are about 60% sure of a solution. There are some really promising candidate technologies and we are testing them and researching them at the moment. Things are looking promising.

Since I am full-time working on Haven (the password replacement system), I am deeply indebted to the help and work of Kirra and Lara in keeping the project going while I contribute as I can.


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