Surf Life Saving NSW drone program expanded to Fingal Bay to spot sharks, rips and other hazards to keep beach users safe

SEP 19, 2021

Surf Life Saving NSW's drone program has been expanded to Fingal Bay to spot sharks, rips and other hazards to keep beach users safe.

The shark surveillance drone program has been expanded across NSW this patrol season including to one of the Port's most popular beaches.

Fingal Bay is now part of the program, joining Birubi Beach which was included in the program in 2018.

More than 50 beaches will be patrolled this season in NSW under the program, with about 200 UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] pilots employed to watch over swimmers and surfers.

Drone flights began on Saturday to coincide with the start of surf patrols by lifesavers and lifeguards.

Surf Life Saving NSW runs the program, with support from the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Drone pilots will conduct more than 25,000 flights this season. The non-invasive drone technology has proven effective at keeping swimmers and surfers safe.

Authorities say the effects of the drones on marine life are minimal.

Since the program began three years ago, the public response has been positive.

People report greater confidence entering the water at locations where the drones are operating.

Surf Life Saving NSW president George Shales said the drone capability had been boosted to "keep people safe".

"Alongside their primary use for shark mitigation, the UAVs are an additional tool to assist volunteer lifesavers and lifeguards identify other hazards such as rip currents."

They also help patrol outside flagged swimming areas and play an "integral part of search and rescue operations".

Drownings at unpatrolled beaches were a key area of concern, highlighted in the recent NSW Coastal Safety Report. About 60 per cent of drowning deaths during the patrol season occurred at unpatrolled spots.

New technology will also be trialled this season to extend the reach of the "eyes in the sky" capabilities.

This will involve long-range endurance flight trials, which "could offer the possibility of exponentially increasing the coastal area covered".

Surf Life Saving NSW will further incorporate artificial intelligence technology into the drones to "complement the skill set of pilots and extend capability along the coastline".

"We've shown this technology is here to stay and hope that with greater coverage we can save even more lives," Mr Shales said.

The drones complement helicopter aerial surveillance. As part of the shark management strategy, a helicopter flies along the coastline between Birubi Beach and Crowdy Head once a day each day of the school holidays until the end of April.