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PVC pipes as shark repellant

I follow a number of plastics-related news feeds, all of which contain a steady stream of articles and blog posts about plastic pollution in marine environments. So, when I came across a story about a marine scientist who wants to put plastic in the ocean, it immediately caught my attention.

Craig O'Connell, PhD, a marine scientist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and founder of O'Seas Conservation Foundation, wants to create an artificial forest of PVC pipes tethered to the ocean floor near beaches. Combined with barium-ferrite permanent magnets, the pipes reportedly would deter sharks from mingling with swimmers.

The Sharksafe barrier is touted as an eco-friendly alternative to shark nets that are sometimes used to keep sharks away from beaches. The nets reportedly end up killing hundreds of sharks and sundry turtles, dolphins, rays, and sea birds each year.

The idea for the barrier came to O'Connell and his fellow researchers based on observations that seals often evade predators by hiding in thickets of kelp. A series of experiments with artificial kelp forests in South Africa showed promise: in trials with more than 60 sharks, none swam through the magnetized and nonmagnetized barrier, despite being tempted with fish chum. Now the researchers would like to secure funding to construct a proper plastic barrier off a beach.

The PVC pipes are designed with special joints that allow them to sway with the currents and waves, replicating the effect of a kelp forest.

The research is described in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

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