In the small coastal town of Kiama, Australia, Kye Adams and the Project AIRSHIP team are testing a non-invasive alternative to shark nets. Their blimp-mounted camera system aims to provide adequate warning to beach users when sharks or other hazards are present in the water.
How would you explain your connection to the ocean and sharks?
My father has always loved the ocean, so much so that my name comes from the Hawaiian word for it: Kye, which means salt water. So it was almost inevitable that I would share the same connection. To me, the ocean is the last remaining wilderness. One of my favourite feelings is being out in deep water, where you can’t see the bottom, and being aware of that sense of the unknown. It makes me feel really small – and it’s good to be reminded of that. Sharks add to that feeling; without sharks the ocean becomes just a big swimming pool, it loses its attraction. Wild animals make the world more interesting. It’s great to feel powerless sometimes and to be reminded that we are not in complete control. I think a lot of people are chasing that feeling when they enter the ocean. As soon as you step off the sand, you’re entering a wilderness area, even if that beach is in a city.
How did you come up with the blimp concept?
As professional lifeguards, we spend a lot of time staring at the sea and although we sit in towers that are elevated, sometimes we feel that they are not elevated enough to get a complete view of the ocean. Surf Beach is a small coastal embayment that, with a headland at each end, feels quite enclosed. This makes it an ideal spot for running the programme because you have both headlands and you can spot any activity between them from the sky. Obviously, people have considered drones as a solution to this, but they have the downside of a short battery life. For the purpose of providing beach and ocean coverage for eight hours, drones aren’t the most effective solution. So the blimp idea came from me watching old documentaries about the First and Second world wars, when blimps were used for surveillance.
I thought that perhaps they could work in our situation. The more I researched how they operate and what can be done with them, the more boxes they ticked.
I’m also hoping that with the project AIRSHIP blimp we can replicate that feeling of safety that shark nets give the public, but not have the downside of by-catch and unnecessary shark deaths. My end goal is to replace the shark nets with blimps.
Your job means that you work with recreational ocean-goers every day. How would you describe the public’s attitude towards sharks?
Kiama is a summer destination for both local and international tourists and a lot of them don’t have much understanding of the ocean and sharks. Among the locals and the surfers, though, there is more respect for the ocean, and they understand it better too. They also realise that sharks are a necessary part of the environment. It’s different with tourists. For example, mothers will often come and ask if it is safe for their children to enter the water. Once we’ve explained about the blimp and tell them that we haven’t seen anything that day, then usually they’ll go in, but only into the shallows. So sharks are definitely on their minds.
A social scientist has got involved in the project this summer and she will be conducting surveys, so we’ll get a good idea of what people think about sharks and their attitude to the blimp and shark nets and the other strategies that are being used. We’re looking forward to the data that will come from that.
In the small coastal town of Kiama in New South Wales, Australia, gill nets that catch and drown sharks are the primary method for protecting water-users. Kye is looking into a more sustainable solution: a blimp that spots animals from the air.