Reducing shark attack risk

SAFER: Rob Carraro holds one of his Sharkview surfboards which makes surfers less visible to sharks while in the water. Picture: Melinda McMillan
SAFER: Rob Carraro holds one of his Sharkview surfboards which makes surfers less visible to sharks while in the water. Picture: Melinda McMillan

IF a shark can’t see you, it can’t attack you.

That’s the simple principle behind a Newcastle-developed innovation to reduce the risk of shark attack for surfers. 

Marine biologist Rob Carraro has developed a range of adaptive camouflage products which literally hide surfers and their boards while in the water. 

“Shark vision is critical to how they hunt,” Mr Carraro said.

“If you can’t be seen, you are not going to be approached.”

While developing the products, Mr Carraro drew on everything he knew about shark behaviour. He has worked for Fisheries NSW, subcontracted for CSIRO and has been a scuba-diver for more than 30 years. 

“I have always had a strong interest in sharks,” Mr Carraro said.  “When I went to uni, I’d already seen a lot of things in the water, but that gave me the science to back up what I had seen.” 

It was while working on helicopter surveys in the coastal waters between Newcastle and Port Stephens that Mr Carraro really grasped the degree to which sharks rely on vision when hunting. 

He observed great white sharks hunting schools of fish and how some fish were able to avoid attack because their silver scales camouflaged them in the water. 

“We saw them get fish and we also saw them miss,” Mr Carraro said. “When they missed it was because the fish saw them … or them losing sight of the fish and giving up.” 

His Sharkview products apply the camouflage principle to surfboards and wet-suits. The surfboards have a reflective film that can be applied before glassing, or retro-fitted. 

“All we are doing with the boards is taking what fish do, and copying it,” Mr Carraro said. “A lot of mid-water fish have reflective scales because they don’t have a background to hide against.” 

The Sharkview wet-suits use patterned material that reduces contrast and brightness in the water. The dual-skins, which slip over the top of a wet-suit, are reversible which allows surfers to choose from two colours, depending on the habitat they are surfing in. 

The Sharkview products were tested using scientific permits in the waters off Port Stephens.  

“The surfboards got no interest from the sharks, the wet-suits, we tested a few types, we got good evidence, none of the camouflage (wet-suits) got taken,” Mr Carraro said. 

Newcastle surfboard manufacturer Jye Byrnes has made prototype surfboards using the patented technology, which is expected to go into full production in 2019.

Sharkview has an information centre at The Station. It’s open seven days. 

Find out more: sharkview.com.au