Drones trialled to prevent rock fishing deaths

For Surf Life Saving Northern Region

A rock fishing safety campaign is trialling the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Drones in a bid to reduce the number of rock fishing incidents along the West Coast.

The West Coast Rock Fishing Project – a partnership between Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR), Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) and Auckland Council - launched for summer on Wednesday 11 December at Piha beach from 3.30pm-5pm.

SLSNR Operations Assistant Ben Julian says safety campaigning is paramount given the high-risk posed by rock fishing activities. “Since August we have had three rock fishing fatalities on Auckland’s West Coast. It’s a top priority for us to reach other rock fishers to avoid further tragedy,” he says.

As part of the campaign this season, UAV drones will be trialled to improve the safety of lifeguards campaigning around the rocks. Auckland Council’s Senior Ranger Stuart Leighton says the West Coast is a dynamic and demanding environment with the introduction of drones being an innovative development. The drones will be used to guide safety advisors to rock fishers along the West Coast allowing advisors to engage with them and encourage best safety practice.

Julian says that the key safety message for the season remains the same – if you’re rock fishing always wear a life jacket. “Throughout summer we will use drones to support our engagement with recreational rock fishers with the aim of encouraging lifejacket use and making safe choices. Wearing a lifejacket may be the difference between life and death,” he says. “We also encourage rock fishers to check the conditions before hitting the rocks, wear the right clothing and to be aware of waves and swells.”

DPA Business Manager Samantha Gunther says since the introduction of the programme in 2006, there has been an average of one rock fishing drowning per year in Auckland.
“Five West Coast rock fishing deaths initiated the introduction of the West Coast Rock Fishing Project in 2006 and recent incidents this year show the urgent demand for the continuation of the campaign.”

While rock fishing education is provided to the public throughout the year, rock fishing advisors will be operating from late December to April.

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