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Shark detection system and sirens alert swimmers

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Swimmers at Mullaloo Beach will have an extra line of defence against threats from sharks and other potential hazards as part of a research project that aims to improve beach safety in Western Australia.

BeachLAB, an initiative by Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club and Curtin University, applies evidence-based research and science as well as practical lifesaving knowledge to verify and validate effective detection and protection for beach-going swimmers.

Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club’s current project consists of a number of acoustic detection receivers, including two sponsored by RPS MetOcean, that cover around a kilometre of swimming beach area at Mullaloo’s main beach, in front of the Surf Life Saving Club.

Dr Miles Parsons, Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology, explained the alert system works by recognising marine animals previously tagged with acoustic tags travelling in the monitored area.

“When a shark or other tagged animal passes through the monitored area at Mullaloo Beach, a signal that is regularly emitted from their tag is then picked up by the strategically placed receivers in the water,” Dr Parsons said.

“Once the signal is picked up, the receivers then transmit a signal directly to the beach management system which sets off the audible alarm and flashing lights stationed on the beach, alerting swimmers to the potential danger and prompting them to take immediate action.”

BeachLAB will be testing the application and performance of a number of beach safety related technologies, using the array and its moorings as a real-world platform. Planned BeachLAB projects include the detection of rip currents along the beach and the detection of sharks using sonar systems. The latter will further a Curtin University project funded by the Applied Research Program of Western Australia’s Office of Science.

The main focus of BeachLAB will be relaying detection of any potential hazard back to the central alarm system in real-time. Warning siren sounds during daylight hours when beachgoers generally swim.  During night and off-peak hours, the system will only activate the red light warning.

The project will complement existing shark detection strategies at Mullaloo Beach including Department of Fisheries satellite linked acoustic receivers that send an automated alert to SurfCom, as well as Twitter and SharkSmart, if a tagged shark is detected.

Mr Carlo Tenaglia, President of Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club, believes that real-time, beach-based alarm systems are an effective way to alert swimmers.

“Other existing warning systems in place transmit information to an app or mobile phone, however, beachgoers generally wouldn’t have these devices with them in the water, or even necessarily take them on to the sand,” Mr Tenaglia said.

“A siren and red light are universal warning signs for danger and prompt swimmers to take immediate action to exit the water.”

Mr Tenaglia also explained that the Club hopes to extend the detection buoys along the Mullaloo coast in the future.

“The monitored area can be expanded by placing additional detection buoys at spaced intervals, forming a detection line for as long as required, creating a larger monitored area, and hopefully safer area, for local swimmers,” Mr Tenaglia said.

“Safe beaches are something that the Mullaloo Surf Club is passionate about. Following an unfortunate shark attack on our beach in 2012, the Club set out to gather shark prevention research and take appropriate action to increase water safety for all beach users.  We hope that the BeachLAB project is a step forward in this direction.” he said.

Note to Editors:

BeachLAB is a collaboration between academia and the community, Curtin University and Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club, which commenced in June 2013. Its goal is to maintain and improve beach safety, and one major component of this goal is to produce realistic detection and protection solutions for swimmers in areas where potential hazards exist.

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