Sharknotes By Dr Sara Andreotti

December 14, 2021

Sharks, Beaches and The Sharksafe Barrier

By now, you’ll be aware of the collaboration between Italtile, ITD, the distributors of Tivoli taps, Dr Sara Andreotti and her team of marine conservationists. As you might know, Italtile has widened the LiveGreen waterwise lens to include a focus on ocean conservation. We call it the SharkWise Project and you’re part of the team: every time you purchase a Tivoli tap, Italtile donates R2 to Dr Andreotti’s research and the development of her sea-changing SharkSafe Barriers. (That means you become a stakeholder in an initiative designed to create a safe space in the sea for sharks and humans.)

In October 2021 - National Marine Month – we launched Dr Andreotti’s Shark Notes and since then we’ve shared her enthralling insights and glimpses into the world of shark conservation. Dr Andreotti’s Shark Notes help us all reflect on the world’s most misunderstood and abused sea creatures, and the crucial role they play in keeping the balance of life on earth. We hope you’ll find much of interest in this month’s edition.


The subject of shark-related accidents with swimmers and surfers has been a hot button topic for a few decades, receiving extensive media and movie attention. (Who remembers “Jaws”, the movie?

With a steady increase of human’s recreational use of beaches at the beginning of the twentieth century, the general public began more exposed to interactions with sharks; sometimes with fatal results. One of the earliest solutions to reduce the incidence of fatal shark-human interactions in South Africa, consisted of a large enclosure built with long poles, stuck deeply into the sand, to protect beach-goers from the local shark population. Unfortunately, this earlier approach was short-lived.

Photo credit: Book “About Sharks and shark attack” by David H Davies (David Helbert) 1965

Sadly, the most common approach to reduce the number of shark-human encounters is to kill sharks, by deploying either shark nets (large mesh nets designed to suffocate the sharks by their gills), or drumlines (baited hooks deployed to fish mostly sharks, and spare the life of all the other marine animals getting killed in the shark-nets). A good example of how these shark-nets work can be found in the documentaries Envoy Shark Cull and The Shark Net Film.

Photo credit: Envoy Shark Cull Facebook page

The policy of lowering the number of shark encounters by reducing the shark population number has been driven by people’s fear for these ancient animals: in Australia since 1937, South Africa since 1950 and more recently also in two French islands.

This is why, since 2008, we have been working on an alternative which we have called the SharkSafe BarrierTM . It will become the first eco-friendly and shark-specific technology to reduce shark-human conflict, by keeping sharks and surfers physically separated from each other. Distributed by SharkSafe Barrier Pty Ltd, a start-up spin-off company of Stellenbosch University, the SharkSafe BarrierTM is designed to be a visual shark deterrent by mimicking a thick forest of kelp composed of vertical recycled plastic pipes, coupled to a strong magnetic field, also tested and proven to affect the swimming behaviour of large sharks.

Photo credit: Daniel Bothelo

Thanks to various sponsors, including SHARKPROJECT, White Shark Diving Company, Pisces Divers, Just Africa Scuba, the Technology Innovation Agency, Stellenbosch University Faculty of Science and ITALTILE, The SharkSafe BarrierTM has been undergoing rigorous testing with white sharks in South Africa and bull sharks in The Bahamas since 2012, with the results of these tests published in various peer reviewed scientific journals.

A test barrier of 200 pipes was constructed in February 2019 in in La Réunion waters, to form a 10m x 10m square in order to replicate previously published experiments. The aim was to test the efficacy of the SharkSafe BarrierTM in collaboration with the local Shark Security Centre, to exclude local bull sharks from a food source. These 200 pipes were deployed at sea for more than two years.

The SharkSafe BarrierTM team is also working to adapt the current design, in ordere to enable more versatile installations across the globe, at different water depths and across different sea substrates.

Our latest tests are now in the waters of Mackerel Beach (next to Glencairn in South Africa), where we installed a few pipes in the shallow area, and another set in 6 meters deep water, to try out the latest design for deep sand anchorage. We are planning to leave these in the water during the summer season, when the south-east storms are hitting the bay, so that we can properly test the robustness of our latest design (DISCLOSURE: the installation in Mackerel Beach does not form an enclosure to keep sharks out – we are just testing the design with a few pipes).


Photo credit: Douglas Drysdale and Rory Bruins

It is clear that shark-cull policies, shark-nets and drumlines are not the biggest threat to large sharks in the world. Bycatch, shark-finning, overfishing of their food resources, climate change and pollution all spring to mind as only some of the major causes threatening shark populations world-wide. And yet, if only we could take away this one threat of shark-cull policies, we would eliminate the constant presence of fishing gear in 46 beaches in South Africa and many more in Australia.

To this end, it is our hope that our work on the SharkSafe BarrierTM will soon relegate shark nets to the history books, and promote a peaceful coexistence with sharks and prevent fear-based conservation policies.

Website and Social Media links for the SharkSafe Barrier