Southern Cross University – Shark Surveillance Research

WORDS: Southern Cross University PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied - Southern Cross University

After four years of intense research and development we now know more about the behaviour of sharks than ever before. Southern Cross University has spearheaded a technology based marine study that may prove to be a life saver this summer.

Technology is now almost at a point where marine animals can be reliably detected and identified in real-time from drones using sophisticated ‘eye in the sky’ artificial intelligence software.

According to Dr Andrew Colefax autonomous surveillance is now edging closer which would allow drones to patrol for longer periods over longer stretches of coastline without requiring a ‘line-of-sight’ operator.

“The majority of shark encounters tend to involve board riders rather than swimmers, so it’s important that we develop technology with the intention to provide surveillance beyond the red and yellow flags and hours of beach patrols,” Dr Colefax said.

“The main thing standing in the way of a more autonomous surveillance system is CASA regulations and safety around air traffic management. Drone technology is already at a point where drones can charge themselves, take off and fly a set course, and land without an on the ground pilot.

Dr Andrew Colefax

“In the short-term, the goal is for machine learning software to assist drone pilots to obtain reliable detection and identification of shark species to improve situational decision making on beach management.”

Dr Colefax is continuing research and development on non-destructive shark-bite mitigation through Sci-eye, a cross-disciplinary collaboration with astrophysicists, Dr Cormac Purcell and Dr Andrew Walsh.

“We are seeing drones monitoring shark movements in more and more stretches of the coastline. A beneficial by-product of all this will be detailed monitoring of marine life off our coastal beaches, which will be highly valuable in assessing and managing any negative impacts and change.”

The team, with support of the NSW DPI, they are focused on improving the detectability of sharks and also delivering the machine learning tool to life-guards and other beach authorities.