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

GURTLER, Mr Chris, Managing Director, Shark Alert

[15:48]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr Chris Gurtler from Shark Alert. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. You have a submission. Would you like to make a short opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions?

Mr Gurtler : I would. Good afternoon to the panel, ministers and the public. My name is Christopher Gurtler, MD of Shark Alert. Shark Alert is a privately owned shark detection company that has developed an innovative method to detect sharks over a wide area, deep below the water surface, using military grade multispectral technology. Fourteen years' experience in trying to find the best detection method has resulted in this solution, which is capable of protecting the public from attack.

The technology was originally designed for the US navy to detect Russian submarines. We have now customised it to detect sharks at depth in the ocean. Trials have been conducted proving beyond doubt the capability of this unique approach, as evidenced by the scientific report by Cardno submitted to the Senate inquiry. A briefing note by Dr Daryl McPhee, Australia and the world's leading shark expert and consultant to Prince Rainier in Monaco on a shark problems in Reunion, has also been submitted.

Our system of protection includes a suite of technologies from radiometric and algorithmic analysis detection, transition of shark details and type to public notification via our partner app Dorsal. We have designed a waterproof smart watch for surfers that will run out notification platform, enabling them to simply leave the water when a dangerous shark is nearby. There will be no need for antiquated, costly nets or drum lines again and it will water users, sharks and other marine life. Sharks swim on the surface less than one per cent of the time, making traditional aerial surveillance more of a placebo than a 100 per cent solution, although having said that the helicopters perform a very valuable resource: saving people from drowning.

This system will provide valuable information on the population and location of sharks patrolling the Australian coastline. This is a modern day solution that works and will soon be trialled here in Perth. Our America partners, Advanced Coherent Technology, have been supplying cameras to the US Navy and flying instigator drones into Afghanistan, identifying targets that are camouflaged. We have got 26 years of design and development of UAV systems and designs of microjet engines and currently are contracted to the Beijing government to maintain power grids. We have got the experience and technology required to make the beach safe again all over Australia and are currently seeking a meeting with our new Labor premier to offer our services to the Western Australian government and to return the water playground to what we once enjoyed. Lastly, I would like to offer my condolences to the family of our recent shark attack, Laeticia Brouwer.

I have a short video of our technology I would like to the panel to watch so as to gain a better understanding of the processes utilised to detect sharks deep below the surface. For a more technical explanation, refer to our report by Cardno, hosts of the New South Wales Shark Summit.

CHAIR: You have said in your submission that the technology is pretty much ready to roll out. Would that be a fair assumption?

Mr Gurtler : Yes.

CHAIR: Cardno has had a look at it?

Mr Gurtler : You have got the Cardno report. If you actually read it, it is fairly technical. It has a 100 per cent detection rate at 15 feet. We believe it is going to go down to probably about 30 feet—

CHAIR: You are talking about below the surface?

Mr Gurtler : Below the surface. That relies on what is called a Secchi depth. The Secchi depth is the measure of the clarity of the water. Typically, the Secchi depth in Australia is about 16 feet. We see below the Secchi depth. As I said, this was originally designed to detect Russian submarines at up to 100 feet below the surface, but they are very large. We tested our technology on eight-foot analogue sharks, which were cut out of plywood. How the technology works, if that is the shark and my telephone, is that as the plane flies over every second all of the lenses take a photo of the plane every seven seconds. So as we pass over, we get multiple photographs, which then builds a cube that is radiometrically analysed with algorithms and so on. We can actually see sharks that people cannot normally see.

CHAIR: Let's say that it is an aircraft or a drone. As it is flying along, it is continually taking photos.

Mr Gurtler : Yes, it is filming.

CHAIR: It is filming, and that is being assessed at a remote location on a video screen?

Mr Gurtler : No, it is being processed on the aircraft. It is beamed back to our server via the 3G and 4G network. From our 4G network, we send it back out over our app, which is called Dorsal. You would be aware of Dorsal, which I believe is the best shark detection app in Australia. I think the government ones are questionable. Dorsal has not made any money out of their app. They have done it for the love of that. Now it has got so big; there are 300,000 users. They have offered to join forces with us. Our intention, as we have designed it already, is a 3G smart watch for surfers to wear that will be less than $200. They will not wear it on their wrist; they will wear it on their bicep. If it is on their wrist, it will be in the water and will not get the signal. As they are paddling along, it will beep and carry on. They will look at their arm and it will tell them where the shark is in relation to them.

From Hillarys to Freemantle, we can fly a plane at 120 kilometres an hour. We can do it in 15 minutes. We can pass by every 15 minutes, scanning 780 metres wide by 30 feet deep. It is a bit like an MRI machine. People do not believe there is an answer to the issue. I believe this is it. I am a surfer myself. I have been surrounded by white pointers; I have been circled by white pointers. I used to surf at Rottnest a lot. I do not surf anymore, because I believe there are more sharks in the ocean than there used to be.

CHAIR: Mr Gurtler, have you validated it by actually testing it in the ocean on sharks?

Mr Gurtler : No. We have tested it on analogue sharks in San Diego, California. In two months time, subject to ITAR approval—because the technology we use is military technology we have to get military approval in America from ITAR, which we have just got, I believe—we will be bringing the trial out to Australia, possibly Perth. Surf Life Saving have indicated that they would be interested in putting it on their helicopter to compare visual trials as against our technology.

CHAIR: So that is going to occur?

Mr Gurtler : I am not sure, because I have spoken to Surf Life Saving recently and they are not even sure if they have a budget allocation from the new government to fly their helicopter, because the helicopter costs a lot of money to fly. We manufacture drones for all sorts of purposes—military and so on—and we were the company that developed the first quadrotors in Australia. We demonstrated that to Norman Moore, the fisheries minister here in Perth, about eight years ago.

The trouble with quadrotors is they just replicate what a helicopter does. They do not see any deeper than three or four feet into the water. Sharks do not swim on the surface. Only half of one per cent of the time do they swim on the surface. So to effectively cover large areas you need to use aerial surveillance, and a drone is the ideal situation. But we also have an Austrian plane that we are planning on using which is diesel powered. It uses four litres of diesel an hour. We would like to fly 10 hours a day, 365 days of the year, and cover the coast completely. We would like the government to help us do that.

CHAIR: I could see a useful application and where it could be used to verify other technologies as well, like sonar.

Mr Gurtler : I think the university would be pretty interested as well, because they have no idea how many white sharks are out there. They do not know. They are guessing. This will give them a very good indication, at least along the coastline, of how many there are. Every day you will see them. You will probably see them move from one location to another.

CHAIR: How do you respond to suggestions or arguments that any kind of aerial monitoring is an important overlay but it cannot give you ubiquitous coverage like sonar technology in the water, for example, which detects things moving through it?

Mr Gurtler : I have been involved in this for 14 years. We have trialled sonar. We have built helium balloons with gyro-stabilised cameras. We developed quadrotors. We have tried lots of things. The best way of detecting sharks is by aerial survey, and the problem has been that you cannot see through the water. Now you can. So we believe this is possibly a silver bullet. All it needs is funding from the government, and people will no longer be swimming 10 feet from the sand. They can go out a couple hundred metres, because they will feel safe.

Senator SIEWERT: What would be the cost?

Mr Gurtler : We estimate that we could fly from Hillarys to Fremantle every day of the year, 10 hours a day, for $3 million. We are not doing this to make lots of money; we are doing it to make the technology work.

Senator SIEWERT: That is from Hillarys—

Mr Gurtler : Hillarys to Fremantle. Obviously shark attacks happen everywhere else as well—

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I was going to say.

Mr Gurtler : We have the ability to use drones. If you look at that little pamphlet I have just given you, we have a number of options. If we use the aeroplane, we can fly at 1,200 feet, and that gives us a swathe 800 metres wide as we fly. As soon as we use a drone, we have to come lower down. We can only fly at 400 feet, which halves the swathe. It is still good, because we can fly up and down and up and down with a drone to GPS waypoints. We already have all the technology available.

Senator SIEWERT: That would obviously add to the cost. If I interpret what you just said, you could do the southwest, for example, with drones—

Mr Gurtler : We could use drones.

Senator SIEWERT: And what is that going to do to the cost?

Mr Gurtler : It would depend on what drone we use and how many beaches we cover. If you have a drone, you cannot cover as big an area as you can with an aeroplane. The aeroplane flies at 1,200 feet at 112 kilometres an hour, so we can cover 112 kilometres in one hour. But, if you do that, it takes an hour before you get back there and a shark could swim into the area. We have other drones as well. We have tethered drones that can stay in the air seven days a week, night and day, generated from the ground. We already have those. So it depends on what drone we use. It would require government discussion. It is all about the funding, about how much money you are prepared to spend, as to how much coverage we can offer. It would definitely be a lot cheaper than the helicopters and a lot more effective. It would solve the problem.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand what you have said about the watch or the receiver on the surfers' arms. In terms of alerts, presumably you could do the same process they currently do with the helicopters, which is to alert the surf life saving organisation.

Mr Gurtler : A drone could drop a flare in the water and a speaker could yell out. You could do all sorts of things. We intend to notify people on their smart phones. Everybody uses phones non-stop these days. If you are going to the beach and know there is a shark at City Beach, you might go to Cottesloe or somewhere else.

Senator SIEWERT: I am thinking about people that are currently in the water or do not happen to have the watch or whatever.

Mr Gurtler : If they are swimming in the water a watch probably will not work. It is only if you are on a surfboard that the watch will be out of the water. If you are swimming the watch will invariably be underwater and will not receive a phone signal.

Senator SIEWERT: So how is it effective for everybody else who is on the beach?

Mr Gurtler : Obviously, Surf Life Saving would be connected to it, so they would get the same information.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I was asking. They would get it.

Mr Gurtler : They would be told. When Surf Life Saving look out for a shark, because of things like refraction and the fact that sharks swim under the water, the likelihood of Surf Life Saving seeing a shark is fairly minimal. It makes everyone feel comfortable, I admit, but unless it is a really white, sandy beach without any reef involved it is unlikely. Our technology will actually pick up a shark from over a reef. If you look at the statistics from the helicopter, most of the sharks detected are between Scarborough and Perth where the beach is white and sandy. As soon as you get above Trigg it is all reef. They do not get very many detections because they simply cannot see them.

Senator SIEWERT: You said you trialled it with analogue sharks. When is the process for trial in real life?

Mr Gurtler : It is coming to Perth in the next few months. Today Tonight have expressed interest in filming it, as has Dr Daryl McPhee from Bond University—he wants to film it for an article for National Geographic, and we have agreed to that.

We would appreciate some funding. Up until now it has been me that has spent all the money. I have had no help from the government. I tried to approach the Barnett government and was stonewalled completely. Ministers simply said to me that the Liberal government was in warehouse mode for the last 12 months, fearing the loss of the election. It did not want to bring anything into the picture that could damage their chances. We are hoping to see the Labor Premier next week. It is very difficult to get through bureaucracy. We have seen the chief science minister and he would not help. We spoke to a number of ministers in the Liberal government and they were of no help. We applied for a grant with DPI in New South Wales. We spent $10,000 getting Cardno to apply for the grant. We did not get the grant; the grant was given to a whole lot of universities to look at I do not know what.

CHAIR: Including UTS.

Mr Gurtler : There is probably a real solution. It is almost like we do not know why. It is something that is scientifically backed. I do not see anything else the committee is looking at that is actually scientifically backed like ours is. If you read the report you will understand what I am saying.

Senator SIEWERT: You are talking about the Cardno report?

Mr Gurtler : Yes. Cardno is a very respected organisation. They actually hosted the Shark Summit in New South Wales. Dr Daryl McPhee wrote the report for the Western Australian government a couple of years ago, so he is an authority on shark behaviour. He believes our technology is possibly the silver bullet. There is nothing else available. I still believe there are things like Shark Shield and Surf Life Saving and so on that can all play a part. But overall I think the government needs to know how many sharks are out there. I think tagging at $10,000 a shark is probably money not that well spent moving forward. I think you are better off just seeing where they are. We can see a white pointer in Scarborough and notify where it is two days later in Rockingham because we can see where it is moving.

Senator SIEWERT: How do you know it is the same one?

Mr Gurtler : If you have a look at our pictures we can actually measure the shark and tell you if it is a white pointer or a tiger shark.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you tell if it is the same one?

Mr Gurtler : We can have a pretty good idea. We can measure it.

CHAIR: Thank you for giving your evidence today, Mr Gurtler. Unfortunately, we have to move on. Thank you for being patient.

Mr Gurtler : Thank you for hearing my submission. Please read the report. I can actually give you on a memory stick that 10-minute video I was suggesting you watch. I think once you see a visual interpretation of what I have been saying you will probably understand what has been going on.

CHAIR: Thanks. We will look forward to keeping in touch.