S.E.T. for socio-economic growth
Sharksafe (Pty) Ltd
Sponsored by the Lewis Foundation since 2019
The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Award was won by Sharksafe (Pty) Ltd for developing the SharkSafe BarrierTM that is the first shark specific barrier which is eco-friendly and can protect swimmers and surfers without harming the marine life. The SharkSafe Barrier protects both shark and beach goer. It was developed by a team of researchers based at the University of Stellenbosch. The team includes Dr Sara Andreotti (lead researcher and COO), Professor Conrad Matthee (CEO and Co-Inventor), shark conservationist Michael Rutzen (inventor), Dr Craig O’Connell, marine engineer Laurie Barwell, and plastic manufacturer Rory Bruins of Labscheme Allchem.
Globally, shark populations are being decimated. Tourism and people’s desire to swim safely in the sea has seen many of these marine animals killed by nets and other anti-shark solutions implemented on popular beaches. The flip side of the coin is that due to the fear associated with sharks, people avoid beaches where shark attacks happen frequently. This has a heavy financial impact on areas that rely on the tourist economy for income. Stepping into this complex situation is the SharkSafe Barrier, an eco-friendly, shark-specific barrier that protects both shark and beach goer.
“We started out on this project because we wanted to try and resolve the endless conflict between sharks and humans,” explains Dr Sara Andreotti, Chief Operating Officer at SharkSafe. “Sharks in South Africa and other parts of the world have been declining in numbers and among the causes is the uninterrupted use of shark nets and drum lines. These are deployed around the coast to kill sharks and reduce the chances of shark/human encounters — all in the name of tourism.”
So, the team put their heads together with the goal of developing a solution to keep sharks separate and safe. The solution had to be environmentally friendly, shark specific, and capable of protecting human life alongside marine animal life. Enter the SharkSafe Barrier that uses the concept of bio-mimicry and advanced technology to create a barrier that sharks don’t want to penetrate.
The solution leverages the fact that shark swimming behaviour can be altered by strong electromagnetic fields and that sharks won’t enter dense kelp forests. The latter is avoided by most sharks as they can become entangled in the kelp and die. The solution anchors rows of staggered plastic pipes into the ocean floor and then adds a strong magnetic field to the external row of pipes; this then mimics a barrier of kelp for the sharks, with the magnetic field as a further deterrent that sends them on their way.
“The solution is inspired by nature and uses known natural shark barriers in an effective way to prevent them from entering specific areas,” says Andreotti. “We use strong magnets that overpower shark senses and prevent them from seeing clearly in the water. Then we combine this with the thick ‘kelp’ barrier that keeps them separate from the beaches. The solution doesn’t kill marine life and it can be deployed very deeply, behind the surf zone, which many other solutions can’t do. It also requires very little maintenance, so it’s very cost effective.”
The SharkSafe Barrier was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Stellenbosch that includes Dr Andreotti, Professor Conrad Matthee, shark conservationist Michael Rutzen (who played an important role in the design and provided the idea of bio-mimicking the thick kelp), Dr Craig O’Connell (who tested the effect of magnetism on sharks), marine engineer Laurie Barwell, and plastic manufacturer Rory Bruins of Labscheme Allchem. The project pulled together multiple skills and capabilities to create a solution that not only saves sharks and the environment, but tourism as well. — Tamsin Oxford
To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.