Shark zapper test site hunt

Sophie Elliott with Rick ArdonBusselton Dunsborough Times

Busselton and its famous landmark have been scouted as a potential site for the introduction of an Australian first in shark mitigation.

Ocean Guardian, manufacturers of shark shield technology devices, are searching the nation for a suitable location to introduce its latest product — a beach barrier system using a shark deterrent cable.

The technology takes advantage of sharks’ sensitive electrical receptors located in their snouts.

The system consists of a main electromagnetic cable fixed to the sea floor, with “vertical risers” supporting electrodes that emit a low frequency pulsed electronic signal which turns away sharks.

The device was created in collaboration with the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, the inventors of Shark Shield Technology, and was trialled extensively South Africa.

Over a seven month period, the shark deterrent cable showed a 100 per cent success rate in repelling great whites.

Ocean Guardian and members of KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board visited Busselton earlier this week.

Their visit was prompted by a proposal from the Busselton Jetty to create a protected swimming area at the end of the attraction.

The area would be the size of an Olympic swimming pool and created for the purpose of swim, snorkel and dive tours.

While in the region, Ocean Guardian representatives, including chief executive Lindsay Lyon, also visited beaches in Busselton and Dunsborough.

Mr Lyon said Busselton was a strong candidate to host the inaugural site for the beach barrier technology.

“This is not a trial or a test, this technology is proven. We are looking for a ‘poster child’. It is like we’ve come out with a new Tesla and are looking for someone to drive it for us and promote it,” he said.

“Busselton Jetty is a pretty good option, it is iconic. Imagine the visuals from a drone with tourists swimming in clear waters, and there are shark sightings so it has a hell of a lot going for it.”

In WA, Ocean Guardian has also toured Cottesloe and Mandurah.

The team will travel to the Eastern States to assess locations in Queensland and New South Wales, including shark hotspot Ballina.

Busselton Jetty chief executive Lisa Shreeve said the organisation had been working with Ocean Guardian for two years, exploring their shark shield products

“They are looking for somewhere iconic to implement this in Australia, somewhere to capture people’s attention,” she said.

“We think with 500,000 visitors a year, and our plan to have this protected swimming area, 1.7km offshore, with an underwater sculpture exhibition for people to dive and snorkel over, hits the mark.”

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said the City was keen to see the technology put into action in the Capes.

“We were certainly happy to show Ocean Guardian areas that we feel will really tick all the boxes for what they are looking for,” he said. “You’ll never remove that risk but perhaps we can put some different measures in place to give people some piece of mind when they are surfing and entering the ocean environment.”

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly confirmed the State Government had discussed the idea with Ocean Guardian.

“We have not yet received a detailed proposal for how this technology could be run, how much it would cost and what would be required of the State Government,” he said.

“We look forward to receiving a detailed proposal about this idea.”

It is understood the South African Government would pay for most of the world-first installation, estimated to be about $300,000 for 500m of cable.

However, not everyone was welcoming of the technology.

Keith Halnan, convenor of the South West Safe Shark Group, has raised concerns about the long-term impact of electromagnetic pulses on human health.

“Until long-term research is done in this area we will not endorse this product,” Mr Halnan said.

“The people that have done the independent reviews on the technology are not experts in the field of health, they are marine biologists.”

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said it was important to continue to trial other forms of shark mitigation technology, but it was essential any technology was approached with caution.

Mr Lyons said there was no question how good the technology was.

“There is zero question that this technology will prevent shark attacks. It is well proven. There is peer reviewed public research that shows how well this works,” he said

“We are really, really hopeful that we can find a world-first site for this technology.”

If Busselton is selected as the site, it is anticipated the technology would be installed in October with Jetty dive tours starting in December.

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