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Keeping an eye on sharks from the sky – are drones a good idea?


Sharlene King
29 May 2019
Drones Debra Stokes and Andrew Colefax
Researchers Andrew Colefax and Dr Debra Stokes.

Drones were deployed at NSW beaches more than three years to monitor sharks and develop surveillance procedures in an effort to keep beach-goers safe following a spate of attacks in 2015.

Now researchers at Southern Cross University have launched an online survey to better understand the community’s sentiment about drones being used for shark surveillance, including opinions on the effectiveness of drones and any concerns around privacy.

The study is run in collaboration with the NSW Shark Management Strategy.

“One of the non-lethal approaches to shark mitigation, introduced in 2015, was to trial drones to look for sharks. Several drone research trials have been conducted since then,” said researcher and PhD candidate Andrew Colefax who’s based at the University’s National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour.

“Drones are also increasingly being used by NSW Surf Lifesaving. This last summer Surf Lifesaving patrolled around 30 NSW beaches using drones.”

The results of the survey will inform shark management agencies of the appropriate level of drone investment and outline further potential research directions.

“Southern Cross University researchers want to be sure that the decision-makers are presented with an overview of how the public feels about the use of drones on their beaches,” Andrew said.

Andrew’s PhD research investigates developing drones for shark surveillance and beach safety. He is focused on developing shark surveillance procedures and improving detection rates of animals in the water.

Lead researcher Dr Debra Stokes, also of Southern Cross University, encouraged users of all NSW beaches from the Tweed Shire in the north to the Bega Valley Shire in the south to take part in the survey.

“We want to know if beachgoers feel confident that drones work effectively. Do they understand the capabilities and limitations of drone surveillance on the open coast?” Dr Stokes said.

“We know drones are very effective at being our eyes in the sky above the ocean, but there are limitations. Does drone surveillance warrant more and continuing research to try and improve its reliability?

“More generally, people may have concerns about privacy when it comes to drones. So while drones are an innovative and effective technology at the beach in keeping an eye on sharks, is our privacy threatened?”

This research project has approval ECN-19-054 from the Human Research Ethics Committee of Southern Cross University.


The survey takes about five minutes to complete. It’s for users of beaches along the NSW coastline from the Tweed Shire in the north to the Bega Valley Shire in the south. To share your views, and make your opinions count, go to: