DRONE: A still photo of the Department of Primary Industries shark drone on trial this week.
DRONE: A still photo of the Department of Primary Industries shark drone on trial this week. Contributed

Government using shark drones off North Coast waters

STATE of the art shark drones are being trialled by the Department of Primary Industries this week in waters off Port Macquarie.

If successful, the drones could be rolled out across the NSW coastline and potentially replace aerial surveillance missions currently undertaken by manned helicopters.

Three day trial

The three-day trial will put the DJ Inspire 1 drone in the sky every hour covering a 3.8km course of sand and reef-bottom coastline, and compare its results to a conventional helicopter flight.

"This is to​ ensure all environmental conditions are encountered, and to determine the effect of sun angle and habitat effect on the ability to detect sharks in coastal waters," a DPI spokeswoman said in a statement.

Drone trials have already taken place earlier this year in Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour and several more trials are slated for the rest of the year. 

Popular tool

DPI Fisheries' Senior Research Scientist Dr Paul Butcher said drone technology was "fast becoming a popular tool for surveillance measures across the world".

"This week's trial in Port Macquarie is the second time we have compared traditional aerial surveillance using an observer inside helicopters, to a drone flying the same path, at the same time," Dr Bucher said.

"Drone technology feeds real time information with GPS co-ordinates back to the operator, and the trial will test the effectiveness of the technology and its role in shark attack mitigation. 

"The trial means we'll be able to compare the vision recorded during the trial and determine the ability of each technology to spot sharks." 

Several at a time

It is not a simple matter of drones being equally effective and cheaper - if they were were to replace helicopters, their minimal 8km range would require several to be used at one time.

They also require piloting by a qualified pilot under Civil Aviation Safety Authority law.

According to the DPI, recent aerial surveillance programs conducted along the NSW coast been a success, helping alert authorities and the public when a shark is posing potential danger to swimmers or surfers. 

Since January alone, NSWDPI aerial surveillance contractors have cleared the beach 42 times along the NSW Coast, because of potentially dangerous sharks in close proximity to swimmers. 

Year round surveillance

Year-round aerial surveillance is currently underway on weekends on the NSW North Coast from Point Danger, Tweed Heads to South Ballina. 

"Sharks seen by the helicopters and deemed to be posing a potential danger to swimmers and surfers will be immediately reported to police, as well as directly to local Surf Life Saving clubs and other beach authorities at patrolled beaches," Dr Butcher said. 

NSW Department of Primary Industries will also tweet the information via @NSWSharkSmart, and on the SharkSmart app.

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