Port Macquarie News, Port Macquarie Express, Camden Haven Courier & Wauchope Gazette
August 25, 2020
Drone technology usage is proving to be beneficial to alert beach goers of potential danger posed by sharks off the coast of the Port Macquarie-Hastings.
The Westpac Little Ripper drone has set off an alarm 14 times to clear the water over the past four months due to shark sightings.
The Ripper Group maintains a Westpac Little Ripper drone at Port Macquarie to conduct research over the beaches in the area.
The Ripper Group chief executive officer Ben Trollope said the Westpac Little Ripper drone has captured plenty of footage of sharks being close to swimmers and surfers in Port Macquarie.
“(There was) one as recently as last week where a white shark swam directly under a surfer (at Lighthouse Beach),” he said.
The Westpac Little Ripper drone pilots are trained to observe the behaviour of the sharks according to its species.
Mr Trollope said the technology is not about creating hysteria unnecessarily, where shark behaviour and the species does not pose a threat.
However, the technology can alert people if a potential danger is detected using the SharkSpotter Artificial Intelligence.
“We made Port Macquarie one of our main bases for research and development of that program purely because Port Macquarie has a great aquatic ecosystem,” Mr Trollope said.
Wayne Hudson from Port Macquarie Surf School has been carrying out his lessons in accordance to where the Westpac Little Ripper drone is flying from.
He said this gives parents and children peace of mind when it comes to safety in the water.
Mr Hudson said he doesn’t know if there is an increased amount of sharks which are travelling close to the coastline, or if the advancement of technology has allowed for more sightings to be captured.
The school has contacted the Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) for information in relation to shark populations.
Mr Trollope echoed Mr Hudson’s view and said the research hasn’t necessarily shown an increased amount of sharks off the coast.
The Westpac Little Ripper observes a large amount and variety of marine life when flying in the area, including dolphins, whales, turtles, stingrays and sharks.
“We’ve got more capability of seeing them because drones are so prevalent,” he said.
The presence of the Westpac Little Ripper in Port Macquarie is a community support initiative by sponsor Westpac.
The Ripper Group was contracted by Westpac in 2016 to research, develop, test and implement a drone strategy focused on the saving of lives in the marine environment.
This includes shark mitigation technology and working with surf lifesaving organisations.
NSW DPI was contacted for comment but did not respond before this article was published.