Sharks debate – Is technology the answer?

Shark Mitigation: How do we keep swimmers and surfers safe in the water?
Shark Mitigation: How do we keep swimmers and surfers safe in the water?

The debate over how to make our oceans safer for people to enjoy has raged over recent years – and it is hard not to see some logic in both sides of the argument.

From one perspective, there is a call for sharks to be culled to prevent attacks, with human lives rightly deemed more important than that of an animal.

The Mandurah community has suffered the devastation of shark attacks in recent years, with the pain and heartbreak much too close to home.

Advocates on the other side of the argument suggest oceans are the domain of sharks, not humans.

Given that sharks are the apex predator in the marine environment, some would tell you that surfers, swimmers and those taking to the water are doing so at their own risk.

Having met with Shark Alert International last week and this week spoken to Rick Gerring, whose brother Ben was killed in a shark attack in Falcon back in 2016, one thing is apparent to me – more can be done.

Beach Emergency Numbers, personal shark deterrents and the use of drones by surf lifesavers are all measures that have their place in mitigation strategies.

However, the lasting sentiment that Rick left me with after our talk rings true – people are scared to go in the water.

“I’m concerned that in coming years we could lose a whole generation where people don’t want to go in the water anymore,” he said.

“We need to change that perception and put those mitigation measures in place to give people the confidence to go back in the water and enjoy what they love doing.”

It is sad to see the habits of a lifetime being cast aside due to safety concerns.

While there is no wholesale, one-size-fits-all answer to keeping people safe in the water, the technology being developed by companies such as SAI looks set to have a role to play.

Drones and unmanned planes fitted with multi-spectral cameras that can see under the surface of the water. An alert system that automatically notifies lifesavers and surfers of danger through phone apps or smartwatches. The ability to detect and track multiple sharks simultaneously.

While this all costs money and there are plenty of hoops to be jumped through before something like this becomes reality, it is hard to disagree with Rick when he says technology could restore people’s confidence in going for a surf or swim.