Holiday safety: Drones used to spot sharks on Coast beaches
Sunshine Coast lifeguards had extra eyes in the sky to detect dangerous sharks at two popular beaches these school holidays as part of a statewide drone trial.
The Queensland Government trial continues until next month and involves lifeguards using drones to spot sharks offshore Alexandra Headland and Coolum Beach.
Lifeguard supervisor and drone pilot Trent Robinson said in its first two weeks no sharks had been sighted on the drones off the two beaches.
Mr Robinson said they had spent the past three years training lifeguards for their sub 25kg drone licences.
While drones are used on Coast beaches to assist swimmer safety and rescue missions, Mr Robinson said it was the first time they were used as a shark control measure.
The drones are operated by lifeguards who have access to clear, real time footage.
A speaker is attached to the drone to warn swimmers and surfers if a shark is spotted, and lifeguards on patrol are also warned.
"We've been fortunate that we haven't seen any dangerous marine life during these school holidays," Mr Robinson said.
"We've seen plenty of dolphins and turtles, so it is a very healthy marine life."
The drones are flown in the same area each day, about 200 metres out to sea.
Mr Robinson said this helped collect reliable data for the Department of Fisheries, the agency running the program in conjunction with Surf Life Saving Queensland.
The drones used for the SharkSmart program are worth about $6000 each, and the larger drones used for the Westpac UAV program - for swimmer safety - are about $20,000.
The UAV equipment has previously assisted with searches, and is capable of dropping lifebuoys to struggling swimmers.
Mr Robinson said while the new technology was useful for lifeguards, swimmer safety and rescues always took precedent.
"If something does happen, the drone comes down and we respond to that incident as a priority," Mr Robinson said.
The drones fly every 30 minutes until midday every weekend, public holiday and every day during the school holidays.
They are operated by the drone pilot on duty, who sets up witches hats on the beach and the helipad for takeoff and landing.
"We need that area due to CASA regulations," Mr Robinson said.
"People can walk through there, just not during take off and landing."
Other beaches involved in the program include Main Beach and Burleigh at the Gold Coast and North Stradbroke Island.