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Environment and Communications References Committee
20/04/2017
Shark mitigation and deterrent measures

LYON, Mr Lindsay, Managing Director, Shark Shield Pty Ltd

[12:15]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr Lindsay Lyon from Shark Shield. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. We have obviously got your submission. Would you like to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions?

Mr Lyon : Thank you for the opportunity. I greatly appreciate it. The Shark Shield technology, many of you may not know, has actually been around for 20 years. Whilst the most recent research from UWA is new, the technology is not and the testing of the technology has been ongoing for 20 years. The company is now onto its fourth or fifth generation of technology. We have some very exciting long-range technology, which I would be happy to share at the end of this, that has the potential to remove nets from around the world. A lot of people think that the company makes a lot of money and profiteers. The company has three full-time employees and two part-time employees and has never made a profit in 15 years. It has invested over $10 million in R&D.

It is a little tricky. There is a lot of misleading information in the press. Specifically, for example, there have been two fatalities where the Shark Shield brand of product has been involved. In 2002, there was an incident. I have brought the coroner reports to submit as well. I should have probably submitted them before, but I have bought them for the record. The coroner's findings in 2002 was that Shark Shield should be more broadly adopted and that they were not worn correctly on the occasion. The 2012 incident briefly mentioned Shark Shield, but because there were so many other issues with that particular fatality the question of whether the Shark Shield was on, off or used was just about insignificant. I have bought those coroner reports as well.

They are often referred to in the media as evidence that the technology does or does not work. There are now three pieces of independent scientific research. The first one was conducted in 2007 and led by Vic Peddemors, who was in South Africa at the time and is now one of the chief scientists of the DPI in New South Wales. They studied the probably of reduction of a shark attack using Shark Shield technology. Those reserves were absolutely outstanding. In fact, if you read the research, you will see that the only reason there ended up a standard deviation where there was an attack was because the device was actually faulty and they had attacks on the bay.

Charlie Huveneers ran some research. He is out of Flinders University, funded by SARDI and SafeWork SA. That research showed that when he placed the bait about two meters away from the electrical field—not in the electrical field, but about two meters away—it reduced the time in which the shark took the bait by 50 per cent. He also did a test, which is commonly overlooked by the press, where he put a Shark Shield underneath the seal decoy in South Africa—that is the seal they tow behind the boat. He put the Shark Shield underneath the seal decoy. They did 186 tows, half with it turned on and half with it turned off. With it turned off, they had 16 breaches where the shark came out of the water and 27 hits, or interactions, with the seal decoy. With the Shark Shield turned on, they had zero breaches and only two interactions with the seal decoy. Now, that is a white shark, coming from depth, at pace and in attack mode. So the technology is pretty good.

Shaun Collin, from UWA, is here this afternoon. He did some research funded by the Western Australian government. In his research, they had 322 interactions with the bait canister, protected by a turned on Shark Shield, with 41 great white sharks, ranging between two to four metres. Only one shark bumped the bait in that test. What I would like to say is that Professor Shaun Collin and these scientists in the media say this technology is not foolproof. There is not a single safety product in the world that reduces risk by 100 per cent; it is impossible, and I have been in a number of companies with safety products. Does Shark Shield today significantly reduce risk? Without question. It is great technology, it is proven technology and it is independently validated. I have brought a copy of those research papers as well—I have murdered a small tree!

CHAIR: You should not say that to a Green chair, by the way!

Mr Lyon : I know. It is recycled paper. There was a conversation with the current Western Australian government, with people saying, 'Well, how can a government offer a rebate on a safety product?' Governments have been mandating safety products for many years. We have mandated seatbelts and bicycle helmets. There is no difference in supporting the safety technology.

We now have a surfboard product which we have done testing on. Our submission was on rebates because we think that we are unable to get the price of the technology down. I do not know whether price is the only barrier to adoption. I have not listened to all of the submissions, but my personal opinion is that the people that use the ocean are adventurers; they are adventure people. Whether you are climbing Mount Everest, going downhill BMX bike riding or parachuting, you accept the risks, whatever they are. It is the same issue we have in educating young males on driving and road fatality. We tell them that speed kills, but they are immortal and do not die, so they do not listen. So there is an element of communication with adoption of any safety technology—'I'd wear a lifejacket, but I'm not going to fall off the boat, but the guy next to me is.'

In closing, that is really my opening statement. I would like an opportunity at some point before we close to tell you about some new long-range technology that we are a few months away, truthfully, from announcing, but given the opportunity here I wanted to share it. It is pretty innovative, breakthrough stuff.

CHAIR: We might come back to that. I might just ask you a few quick questions. As I said earlier, I have had two units; I had an early one over 10 years ago, and I updated it a few years ago, so I do not have the one that screws into the board yet. Can you tell the committee, or take on notice, how many units you sell to divers as a category versus surfers. It is just that my anecdotal evidence—and I will be very clear about that—is that nearly every diver I know wears one—certainly abalone divers and cray divers—yet not many surfers do. So why has there been an uptake with divers and not with surfers?

Mr Lyon : Firstly, for the dive product it is a very small market worldwide. In the 20 years, there have probably been about 35,000 to 40,000 products sold.

Senator SIEWERT: Globally, you mean?

Mr Lyon : In total globally, yes. So you are talking thousands of units a year, not tens of thousands of units a year. It is a small market. The reason that the adoption rate in the dive market has been higher is that the original product had to fit onto the scuba tank with a smaller antenna on the anchor—it is very difficult to get on and off—but in 2007 the company came out with this product, the FREEDOM7, which is the most popular, and this attaches to your ankle. Then you have this large electrical cord that trails behind the diver. The way this works is that sharks have little gel-filled sacs they use to find food at close range, in the same way you and I use touch; they have to be that close. That is as well as sight, sound and all those things that they have. What this does is to create a very powerful electric field, so these little gel-filled sacs that they have, which are expecting to feel electrical field from a heartbeat or that kind of thing, get near this powerful electric field—if you could see it, it is about six metres by three metres and looks like a football—and it causes them to spasm and turns them away.

So the diving product has been more broadly adopted because of ease of use. The original surf product that you probably used was like this. It hung off the back of the board. Surfers—I am a surfer—take our surfboards to bed, kind of, so putting anything on the board is a problem. If you put a large, bulky thing like this on the back of the board and it is trailing along behind the board, you just want to have your boardshorts, your board and a leg rope, and that is it. So it was a major inhibitor to the performance of the board and the enjoyment of surfing.

This new product, which we designed with Tom Carroll and Ocean & Earth, is basically a decal on the bottom of the surfboard. The two electrodes that you can see on the FREEDOM7 cord are actually just taped to the bottom of the board. The electronics actually screw in and out of the kicker on the tail pad. I put the electrodes on every board I have, because most surfers have multiple boards, and then I move the electronics between my boards. Early indications are that the adoption rates have vastly improved on the surfboard product—without a doubt. I think it will be a while before it catches up with the dive product because surfers in general do not like stuff on their boards. That is just the nature of it.

CHAIR: Does it give you a bit of a zap when you sit on your board?

Mr Lyon : Absolutely. I think that is one of the barriers to adoption. For those people who do not understand this technology, it is actually a direct current. It is about 100 volts at 80-odd amps. Even though that sounds like a lot, it is actually not a lot because you are in the water and you have a big body of water to spread that over. If you touch it, it gives you a shock. Think of it as more than a static electricity shock but significantly less than an electric fence shock. Interestingly, a lot of people reach around and grab it to know it is working. It gives them confidence. In fact—I now use this on my board all the time—every now and again, if I cannot feel it, I reach around to touch it and go: 'Yeah, it's working. It's okay.' It is sort of like a 'Listerine burns my mouth, so it must be good for me' kind of thing.

Senator REYNOLDS: Congratulations on the work that you are doing and the product that you are developing. It is great to see local companies here being as innovative as you are. I have a couple of quick questions on a few areas. Thank you for your submission as well. In your submission you talk about personal protection devices being a particularly important part of a suite of mitigation measures. Where do you see these particular devices fitting into that broader suite of mitigation? Clearly divers and some surfers do not mind getting zapped.

Mr Lyon : That is right.

Senator REYNOLDS: Are they just for divers and surfers? Are you looking at a future application for swimmers?

Mr Lyon : We do have some technology, and I have brought some presentation briefs to leave with the committee. Firstly, the answer is: yes, these are for individual surfers and divers, so it can be adopted for diving, spearfishing, scuba diving, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kiteboarding and ocean kayaking.

Senator REYNOLDS: Presumably they are only good for surfers who are actually still attached to their boards.

Mr Lyon : For sure.

Senator REYNOLDS: So, if they become separated from their board, obviously there is no protection.

Mr Lyon : I doubt there are too many surfers who have been attacked in a wipe-out zone, which is when you are off your board.

Senator SIEWERT: You are connected with your leg-rope.

Mr Lyon : That is right. The board is within leg-rope distance.

Senator REYNOLDS: And that is still close enough?

Mr Lyon : The answer is: it is probably not close enough. If you are talking about stopping a charging great white that is at full pace, then you want to be right in the middle of the field—you want to be on your board. There is no question about that. I do not know exactly when and where they occurred, but I do not think any of the attacks have ever occurred in a wipe-out zone.

Senator REYNOLDS: That is good to know.

Mr Lyon : It would usually occur when you are sitting on your board or paddling—that kind of thing.

Senator REYNOLDS: Is there any future potential for a personal device for swimmers?

Mr Lyon : Not for one that works. There are devices in the marketplace that have been sold that would never work. For a static magnet—and this is physics; this is not marketing—that is about six centimetres, the magnetic field would be about zero. The technology that we are about to announce, and it looks like I am going to announce part of it today, uses some new materials called metamaterials. Metamaterials are man-made materials that alter the way electronics and physics operate.

There is a myth, which people believe, that this technology attracts sharks and then repeals them, which has prevented the adoption of this technology. From a physics electronics perspective, it is extremely difficult to transmit electrical fields under water. The reason we have submarines in defence is when you have a nuclear explosion and it causes an electromagnetic pulse it does not affect the submarines because the water acts as a complete shield. The electrical field from these devices at about six or 10 metres is, in the technical marketing term, 'jack to none'. So it is very hard to transmit under water. But, using these new materials, we now have the ability, we believe, to create an electrical field that is potentially 100 metres in diameter mounted on a buoy.

Senator REYNOLDS: So that would provide a wide area.

Mr Lyon : It would be more as a beach barrier—to replace nets, for example. One of the ways hypothesised to test this technology was that you could place them on nets in Queensland, leave the nets there and, by the fact that you are no longer catching sharks on those nets, show that it is working. I do not know whether you know this, but 70 or 80 per cent of the catch is caught on the inside of the nets.

Senator REYNOLDS: How far away is that technology from being developed, tested, trialled and implemented?

Mr Lyon : Months. We have been working on it for a very long time.

Senator REYNOLDS: I want to come to the issue of rebates in terms of the ability to scale this. You do not see that this would ever be a commercially viable product? This suite of products would require subsidisation?

Mr Lyon : It is still a very early category niche market even though it has been around for 20 years. I will give you an analogy. Think of how long it took to go from a Sony Walkman to an MP3 player to an iPod. It took a very long time. And we are still travelling down that path. We are very close to a tipping point where you can get some volume and lower the cost. I think we are getting very close to that.

Senator REYNOLDS: But you can still do what you are doing now without subsidy? If, for example, that took off, do you need rebates, subsidies or anything else to grow into the market?

Mr Lyon : My first comment was that you have a company that has not made a profit in 15 years. We are just making it by with shareholder funds and growth. We will actually make a profit this year and I think the rebate will lift that—and eventually over the next couple of years you will start to lower your cost of goods and you will not need a rebate.

Senator REYNOLDS: So the answer to my question is yes, you expect to be commercially viable?

Mr Lyon : Yes, absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT: How much is the unit for surfboards?

Mr Lyon : Our surfboard unit is $599 and the dive unit is $749.

Senator SIEWERT: So you are effectively doubling the price of your board once you put it on the board?

Mr Lyon : Yes and no. With every surfboard purchased you normally buy a tail pad, which is about $60. So instead of buying the normal tail pad you buy this tail pad with the decal antenna for $160. And then, with the electronics, you move between your board. So, yes, your initial outlay is $599 for your first board—

Senator SIEWERT: So for each board you pay the extra just for the contacts?

Mr Lyon : That is correct—and then you would move your electronics before it and so your—

Senator SIEWERT: You can apply it to any type of surfboard?

Mr Lyon : Yes. You cannot apply it to very small boards, so it actually does not work for young children and teenagers. The smaller the board the more the electrical field is likely to come around the board and interfere with the user's experience.

Senator SIEWERT: I will come back to that. What is the minimum—

Mr Lyon : It is about five feet six to five feet 10, which is the bulk of the boards. We have a strategy to minimise that. We supply some stickers that you can put over the electrodes to reduce the effect of the electrical field. It reduces the effectiveness of the product but still enables you to have something rather than nothing.

Senator SIEWERT: And it can go on any material? I am thinking of carbon fibre on paddleboards.

Mr Lyon : Yes, it can get on pretty well any surfboard except a soft board. The coating used on surfboards leaches oil, so you cannot get anything to stick to it.

Senator SIEWERT: The anecdotal feedback I have had is that a lot of surfers do not like it because they get the zap.

Mr Lyon : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that being minimised with the new design or are they still getting it?

Mr Lyon : They still do get it. It has been reduced on this product. You have to change the way you surf a little bit—the way you pull your board back, more than anything else—but it has been quite significantly reduced.

Senator SIEWERT: How many units do you have out there at the moment?

Mr Lyon : For the new surfboard product, installed on surfboards—it has only been around for three or four months—we have probably 500 or 600 units.

Senator SIEWERT: What sort of feedback are you getting on the new design?

Mr Lyon : The feedback from the customers is outstanding. We have just spent a couple of weeks in Ballina and Lennox Head meeting with some shark attack survivors and first responders who have been using the product and other people in the community. If you have a look at our website, under testimonials, it is actually outstanding. The issue is that a lot of people think shark attacks help grow our business; it is the opposite. The dive industry in Western Australia has declined in the last 10 years by about 40 per cent. So your addressable market declines. Surf retailers in Ballina and Lennox Head declined by about 60 per cent. So your addressable market declines; you have fewer people to sell your product to. So what is great about this product is that people in their 30s or 40s, who realise they could die, start using the product and going back to enjoying the ocean. That is the key: you go back to enjoying your sport.

CHAIR: Do you want to give us a five-minute rap on your new technology?

Mr Lyon : We are about to release a product that we are going to call Ocean Guardian. Ocean Guardian is a new technology. It uses a transducer. It is different to this; it does not give you a shock. We have leveraged the technology from the medical industry; this same transducer is used in oncology to cure tumours. So we have actual clinical studies on the fact that it is safe for humans and animals. This technology enables us to create an electric field about 100 metres in diameter and about 50 metres high. The field strength at the perimeter of the 50-metre radius is about 20 microvolts. To put that in perspective, a shark can sense five nanovolts. So it is 4,000 times higher. This technology is different from the personal deterrent. The personal deterrent is being tested in a baited, enticed environment, where you are saying, 'Shark, come in, there's food.' What we are talking about is creating an electrical field that is strong enough to create discomfort as the shark swims into the zone and causes it to divert and move away. It is not coming into an enticed environment; it is swimming past a beach, it is swimming near an area. We are about 30 days away from providing some test results and some video results of what it performs like. We think it has amazing promise.

Senator REYNOLDS: I want to ask about the impact on marine mammals. Can it interfere with them?

Mr Lyon : I am not a marine biologist but we are working with a physicist and a biologist. This same technology, as I said, is being used in oncology with humans and animals. Sharks and rays are the only creatures that have electrical receptors, they are the only ones that are exposed to electromagnetic waves, so they would be the only ones deterred.

CHAIR: It would be interesting to get an idea of how you power that and what kind of cost we are looking at

Mr Lyon : It is solar powered and it hangs off deep sea ocean buoys—so any seascape and any environment. I have brought a presentation, which I will leave with you.

CHAIR: If you could table that for the committee, that would be fantastic.

Senator LINES: Mr Lyon, you said you are about 30 days away from the test results. Will they be independently verified or is that your own testing?

Mr Lyon : It is a bit of both. Some of it is going to be our own but we have teamed up with some of the scientists that have previously tested the Shark Shield product. It is going to take a little bit of time to get some of that date to convince the market that it works. Considering that it has taken 20 years to convince the market that the current technology works, we are in a much stronger position because there is a good history of how well electromagnetic and electrical fields work.

Senator URQUHART: On the other side of the surfboard you have a little silver triangle. Is that the solar panel?

Mr Lyon : That is the electrode. That is this piece of stainless steel here. It uses the salt water to connect, and that creates the electrical field underneath the surfboard.

Senator URQUHART: What is the life of the product?

Mr Lyon : People have had the current dive product for eight years. So it is eight to 10 years—long life. If you snap your board, you need to get a new decal antenna; but if you snap your board you have to replace your deck paid anyway.

Senator URQUHART: So it has a reasonable life.

Mr Lyon : It has a great life, yes.

Senator URQUHART: I noticed in your submission that you mention some of the research that has been done in South Africa and at Flinders University and at the University of Western Australia Ocean Institute. Has that research been peer reviewed?

Mr Lyon : Yes, it has.

Senator URQUHART: In your submission you talked about concerns that there were no Australian standards for shark deterrent products. Can you outline your concerns about that? Is that unusual compared to other products that are designed? I know that if you have kids' pool things or whatever, normally they have a standard attached to them. Can you elaborate on that?

Mr Lyon : I think the challenge for your committee and for state governments is that a consumer today has no idea whether they are buying something that has or has not been peer reviewed or is complete and utter snake oil—and, honestly, some of them are.

Senator URQUHART: Are there snake oil products like yours out there?

Mr Lyon : There are products on the market that claim to deter sharks that I doubt—maybe they grow your hair better! In fact, you might be safer to go into the water with your iPhone and use that.

Senator URQUHART: Anyone who provides your product needs to have confidence that it is going to do—

Mr Lyon : Yes. I was involved in a man overboard business. We created a new man overboard product that became an Australian standard. If you have an Australian standard for bike helmets you can go into a store and buy a bike helmet and have a degree of confidence that it will do what it is claimed to do. My understanding is that the New South Wales DPI are going down the path of doing this. Nathan Hart, at Macquarie University, has been given some funding to come up with a methodology for calculating and showing that a product would work. I believe Charlie Huveneers at Flinders University has also been given a grant to physically test the products in the field. And I think there was a third grant given to look at community behaviour or something. But I think some level of Australian standards based on some of that research and some of our research to increase consumer confidence would be great.

Senator URQUHART: Has your company pursued the development of a standard?

Mr Lyon : No, we have not approach Standards Australia at this point.

Senator URQUHART: Why not?

Mr Lyon : Because the evidence to date and the peer reviewed research has not been there.

Senator URQUHART: But you have now got that.

Mr Lyon : There is now so, yes, we could.

Senator URQUHART: Is that something you intend to do in the future?

Mr Lyon : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: I guess it is about giving confidence to consumers that they are spending their $600 to $750 wisely and they know it is a good product.

Mr Lyon : That is absolutely right.

CHAIR: Mr Lyon, can we also get you to table the information that you have brought from the coroner?

Mr Lyon : Yes, and I will leave the research as well.

CHAIR: You may not be able to answer this, or you may choose not to because it is commercially sensitive. Can you give us an update on any discussions you have had with the Western Australian Labor government in relation to potential subsidies?

Mr Lyon : Only in the context of which of our products have been independently tested and validated.

CHAIR: But they have not approached you about how much subsidy they may be willing to offer per individual unit?

Mr Lyon : My understanding is very clear that it is $200 per device for a Western Australian resident.

CHAIR: I was not aware of that.

Mr Lyon : Sorry. The plan, as I understand it, is $200 per device per person.

CHAIR: And you are confident that that will be enough of a subsidy for an uptake?

Mr Lyon : I have no idea. It will be interesting to see what it does to the elasticity of the market. Does lowering the price increase demand? To be very honest, not greatly I suspect.

Senator REYNOLDS: Then price them off and take it out of your own pocket!

CHAIR: Exactly. If you do get an uptake, as we have seen in Ballina and other places—and we will be speaking to these same people who have had incidents with sharks and are now using them—are you able to produce enough of them?

Mr Lyon : Absolutely.

CHAIR: So you have capacity in place should they be rolled out?

Mr Lyon : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Has there been any discussion with Surf Life Saving Western Australia or other groups about having them available for hire or for use around public entities at beaches and other places?

Mr Lyon : No, there has not. We did supply units to the WSL for the Margaret River surfing pro just recently.

CHAIR: Surf photographers?

Mr Lyon : No; we actually put them on the jet skis. We fitted the Shark Shield to the jet skis. If you look at the Mick Fanning incident in South Africa, had he been in an attack—in the sense of the shark having a crack—there is no way to recover the person whereas with an electrical Shark Shield you could come alongside and, without question, the electrical field would cause the shark great discomfort and it would enable you to pull someone out of the border. So WSL have now implemented this as part of their shark risk mitigation strategy for, in particular, Margaret River and also for J Bay.

Senator REYNOLDS: How much does a good surfboard cost?

Mr Lyon : A good surfboard costs anywhere between $700 and $1,000. So your initial outlay is nearly the cost of a new board. But your ongoing cost is not; your ongoing cost is only $100 for every board. The reason I say that is that most surfers buy a new board every year, if not multiple boards. My son would go through four boards a year; they snap them.

Senator REYNOLDS: It seems like a cheap investment—for your life.

CHAIR: That is the calculus we should be talking about. Each individual ocean user needs to weigh up the—

Mr Lyon : My son was surfing at Cactus in South Australia, which is more remote than Esperance. It is in the middle of nowhere and it is 'great white central'.

CHAIR: It has a long history of fatal shark attacks.

Mr Lyon : It has a long history with great whites. My son was surfing there with his best buddy, who is also my best mate's son. And we just sat waiting for the phone to ring to know that they had come out of the water. They did not have a Shark Shield on their board—because they are young males. They are immortal and they do not die!

Senator URQUHART: Where is your product manufactured?

Mr Lyon : It is manufactured in China.

Senator URQUHART: You need to do it in China? You do not have the facilities to do it locally?

Mr Lyon : We did do it locally. To try and lower costs and improve the price point, we took it overseas.

CHAIR: Thank you for your presentation today.

Mr Lyon : Thank you for the opportunity.

Proceedings suspended from 12:48 to 13:35