Fatal crocodile attacks have prompted Surf Lifesaving Queensland to use a drone to keep swimmers safe in the state’s far north.
Three beaches have been closed in the past week after crocodiles were found swimming in stinger enclosures.
Lifesaving operations coordinator Jason Argent said crocodile sightings in swimming areas were becoming more common.
“People look to the red and yellow flags as a safe place to swim and putting a drone in the sky is giving them that extra bit of comfort,” he said.
Mr Argent said crocodile attacks had been “going on for a long time but it’s getting more common so Surf Lifesaving Queensland is working towards mitigating the risks”.
The drone will operate at the Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas and Palm Cove during a four-day trial.
The organisation enlisted the help of a local crocodile farm in order to create an algorithm to help the drone detect the reptiles at sea.
“Crocodiles swim differently to sharks and whales and dolphins and they even have a different appearance in the water,” Mr Argent said.
“We went to [wildlife park] Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures to allow us to film crocodiles in their natural environment.
“When we are flying the drone over stinger enclosures and at sea, you’ll actually be able to see a box appear on the screen, which will alert the pilot.”
From there, lifesavers will close beaches if the reptile is deemed a risk and alert wildlife authorities who have the power to capture and remove crocodiles.
Beaches are safe, Mayor insists
Anne Cameron, 79, was taken by a crocodile in the Mowbray River, near Port Douglas, after wandering away from her nursing home in October.
Meanwhile spearfisherman Warren Hughes, 35, was taken near Innisfail, south of Cairns in March.
Douglas Shire Council Mayor Julia Leu has welcomed the use of drones, although she insisted beaches in her area were safe.
“Ultimately we do think our beaches are safe however there is concern about increased sightings,” Cr Leu said.
“They are appearing in locations that perhaps they had not been for a number of years.”
Surf Lifesaving Queensland said the drone costs about $30,000, as well as about $3000 to train a pilot who has to be accredited by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The organisation said they hoped to make drones a permanent fixture in the far north, and wanted Queensland government funding to purchase three or four drones in the next six months.