“You’re gonna need a bigger drone” is what Chief Brody would’ve said, had he been part of the ongoing Ocean Rescue efforts using specialised drones to prevent potential shark attacks in Long Island, New York.
The number of close calls with biting sharks has increased rapidly in Long Island, with at least 4 bites occurring in the few days surrounding this year’s 4th of July holiday. The Suffolk County Police Commissioner, Rodney Harrison, stated that in 2022 there was up to 6 swimmers bitten by sharks, and that this recent rise in attacks is “a bit of a concern”.
(Photo via Metro UK)
Following on from last year’s attacks, Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York, announced that in order to combat these incidents, the Government planned to implement specialised ‘shark monitoring’ drones in Long Island and NYC, in addition to the existing protocol, to protect those visiting the beach.
The investment into these specialised devices is provided by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The State Office plans not only to provide the drones across all downstate municipalities, but also to offer funding that will cover the cost of adequate training for local personnel. Moreover, the municipalities which do not have the capability for drone surveillance will be assisted by the State Office. These plans aim to ensure that the entirety of the Long Island coastline will have an enhanced monitoring system specifically for sharks.
Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has emphasised the importance of Long Island's diverse marine ecosystem, which is what attracts sharks during their annual migration to the costal waters. Seggos’ goes on to affirm that despite human/shark interactions being rare, the public should still adhere to the shark safety guidelines that are published by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and can be found below. With the focus solely on lessening risk, the DEC recommend all beachgoers to remain alert, and take the necessary precautions when enjoying their time at the beach.
In the Event of a Shark Sighting
In the case of a potential sighting, the beach authorities would take a boat out and patrol the bathing areas vigorously, staying in contact with the on-beach lifeguards and updating each other if they become aware of any suspicious or dangerous marine life. In the event that a shark is spotted in the nearby area, then all swimming is suspended, and all individuals in the water are guided back to the safety of the shore. From that point onwards surveillance is kept up by State Park lifeguards, Park Police and park staff who will continuously scan and patrol the waters for shark activity. Depending on where the shark is spotted, water scooters could be used to break up pools of bait and bunker fish, in order to draw the shark/sharks away and discourage them from coming any closer to shore. Finally, the protocol states that swimmers are allowed to return to the water provided that at least an hour has passed since the last sighting of the shark, and surveillance officials have no other cause for concern.
A Surveillance Drone's Role in Protecting the Waters
Introducing these drones is arguably a step forward for the State Park Lifeguards, who will be aided by this technology immensely. Primarily, using drones provides lifeguards with an aerial perspective in an instant, much larger, and acquired much quicker than they could before. This offers a valuable visibility in which identifying a potential shark and swiftly react. By recognising sharks quickly, lifeguards can implement the safety measures such as clearing the waters and raising the alarm. Most importantly, the quicker that these measures are put into place, the lower the risk of a human/shark interaction is.
Making use of surveillance drone technology is beneficial not only for swiftness, but also for the monitoring of sharks continuously. Even if the shark is in an area of water that is difficult to see from shore or from the lifeguard towers, using a drone will allow officials to keep a constant eye on the shark, while the lifeguard completes the necessary protocol evacuating the waters.
The drone itself is equipped with advanced technology, such as cameras and sensors, which allow officials to accurately identify sharks. As these drones are not limited by visibility and distance, something which human observation can be impacted by, these surveillance drones should be viewed as important resources to protect the waters. The specialised camera and sensors are crucial to identifying the species, and subsequently behaviour patterns and other important information which can be used to predict the sharks next move, and further reduce risk to the public. Moreover, the drone works in real-time, therefore the monitoring carried out is not delayed or a recording, meaning that immediate response can be implemented quickly.
The integration of surveillance drone technology into the pre-existing shark monitoring protocol undoubtedly strengthens the safety of the waters surrounding Long Island, NY. By providing lifeguards and officials with strategic information about what is in the water, informed decisions can be made in favour of the public’s wellbeing. Moreover, the use of drones enhances the response times of the beach authorities, enabling faster communication and coordination amongst the lifeguards, and if necessary, the emergency services. Including drones amongst the safety procedures demonstrates Long Island’s proactive commitment to public safety, and to conscientious costal management. Making appropriate use of cutting-edge technology, the municipalities across Long Island and New York City are undeniably better equipped safeguard their beaches, creating a safe environment for residents and visitors alike.
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