[Editor’s Note: The state government will also be using drones to monitor the coastline during a three-month trial this summer.]
This post originally appeared on http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/drones-to-watch-over-swimmers-during-cottesloe-swim-amid-shark-fears-20161025-gsab7c.html.
WA’s peak swimming body will on Saturday take the extraordinary step of tracking swimmers with drones during an open water event at Cottesloe Beach in an attempt to keep people safe.
The trial announcement comes as the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club blamed a near-50 per cent drop in nipper registration numbers this season on shark fears.
More than 600 people are expected to take part in Swimming WA’s open water event on Saturday as part of the Open Water Swimming Series, swimming distances between 500 metres and five kilometres.
The drone trial will be a first for swimming events in WA and will also allow Swimming WA to count and monitor swimmers’ progress, as well as track “marine life”.
Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club nippers program coordinator Glen Eldon told 9 News Perth on Tuesday he believed parents concerned about sharks, and a cold start to spring, had led to the number of children enrolling in the club’s nippers club dropping from 426 in 2015 to 250 so far this year.
“A couple of days don’t go by when there isn’t a shark attack story in the media at the moment so that would be definitely having an effect on [parents],” he said.
“We do get the odd parent that’s saying to us, ‘my kids don’t want to go in the water anymore’ and also parents that feel they don’t want to put their child at risk.”
Cottesloe Beach is Australia’s fifth most dangerous beach for unprovoked shark attacks since 1990 – recording two deaths and four attacks.
The beach was most recently closed on Wednesday following a sighting of a 2.5 metre shark by a helicopter. Over the following three days, a tagged great white was also detected in the area three times.
The Cottesloe coastline is monitored by two satellite-linked receivers that can detect around 325 tagged sharks including 200 white sharks.
The state government has also recently announced it would trial the use of drones to monitor the coastline during a three-month trial this summer.
But Mr Eldon called for politicians to put “people’s lives before shark’s lives” and do more to protect popular swimming areas from sharks.
“Already this summer we’ve had closures where the fisheries department and Surf Life Saving have closed metropolitan beaches for three days,” he said.
“I just don’t think getting people out the water for three days and hoping the sharks will go away is a viable solution to the problem.
“I think that sharks that are frequenting our metropolitan beaches need to be caught either by fishing, drum lines, nets, I don’t really care what the solution is, but the sharks need to be taken out of the area where they are a danger to people.”
Greens member Lynn MacLaren, said she supported drones being used to reduce the risk of shark attacks along popular beaches, but argued the state government should be more focused on addressing the number of drownings along WA’s coast.
“It is great to see organisations trying new ways to reassure ocean users about the presence of sharks, such as drones for this weekend’s open water swim,” she said.
“It shows that we have come a long way since the pointless cull in 2014.
“It is concerning if nipper enrolments are down because of fear-mongering by certain media outlets, although it is possible the ‘nip in the air’ from this year’s chilly start to spring is also a factor.
“I think most people involved in surf lifesaving in WA are aware that tragically, ocean drownings are far more common in WA than shark incidents and that we must not lose sight of that.”