'Clever Buoy' Might Help Southern California Alert Beachgoers to Approaching Sharks

Clever Buoy is an ocean-monitoring platform using sonar and identification software systems to alert authorities of large marine life near by.

by Laylan Connelly, The Orange County Register / March 1, 2018

(TNS) — As shark sightings and encounters become more frequent, can a high-tech buoy set out in the ocean help warn beachgoers of the sharp-tooth predators’ presence?

One concerned surfer wants to bring a technology being used in Western Australia to the shores of Corona del Mar State Beach, as officials, researchers and lifesavers explore ways ocean lovers can safely share space with a growing great white shark population.

“We’re on the verge of getting bombarded by some bad stuff here. It’s for the safety of my kids, my family and everyone else’s family,” said former pro surfer Ian Cairns, who lives in Laguna Beach and visits the ocean daily.

Cairns this week launched a crowd-sourcing fundraiser to try and fund a buoy system called “Clever Buoy,” an ocean-monitoring platform that can detect large marine life and relay the information to authorities using sonar and identification software systems.

Experts believe the number of sharks has rebounded along the Southern California coast because of restrictions and protections put in place decades ago. Similar protections on their prey — seals and sea lions — also have had an impact, as have the plentiful number of stingrays that serve as meals for juveniles.

“These little juvenile sharks, they are kind of fun and I don’t think they are dangerous,” Cairns said. “But they are all growing up.”

Shark Detection

Cairns grew up in Western Australia, an especially shark-ridden part of the world, he said. The area recorded 15 shark-related fatalities between 2000 and 2017.

The company that makes the Clever Buoy, Smart Marine Systems, did a trial with Western Australia’s state government at City Beach from Dec. 2016 to April 2017. During that time, the system — two surface buoys with six sonars — detected 28 sharks, which led to 19 beach closures, according to a news report in the West Australian.

The World Surf League has also used the system, placing buoys at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa a year after pro surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark at the contest. It also used the technology in 2017 at the Margaret River Championship Tour in Western Australia.

Cairns first introduced the technology in California last September during a press conference overlooking the ocean in Corona del Mar, where swimmer Maria Korcsmaros was nearly killed after a shark attack in 2016. The gathering drew lifeguards and officials who were eager to learn more about the Clever Buoy, including Newport lifeguard chief Rob Williams.

“Anything we can do to help ourselves and educate ourselves will also benefit us in helping the public and being safe,” Williams said at the time.

Currently, some stretches of beach, such as Newport and San Clemente, already have beacons that ping when tagged sharks are nearby. But the beacons only track sharks that have had transmitters put in place by the Shark Lab team at Cal State Long Beach. In addition, the data is only downloaded sporadically and the information is not delivered in real time.

Attacks On the Rise

According to a report by the Shark Research Committee, shark attacks have been on the rise along the West Coast, with nine attacks in 2017, tied with 2004 for the most attacks recorded in a single year. The number was up from five attacks in 2016 and six in 2015.

The second near-fatal shark attack in the area happened last April when swimmer Leeanne Ericson was bit by an estimated 10-foot great white off San Onofre.

The goal of Cairn’s fundraiser is to raise $25,000, to be used towards getting regulatory approvals and the installation of a pilot program.

It’s not the only attempt to raise funding for further research on the influx of sharks in the area.

A bill introduced by a local lawmaker this month — AB 2191 — hopes to raise state funding to study shark presence, behavior and ways to protect beachgoers from attacks. The bill asks for a budget of $4 million over five years for the entire Southern California coast, from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.