Lennox surfer invents new shark-proof wetsuit
THE DAYS of stepping into the ocean and potentially being shark food could soon be over.
Lennox Heads inventor and veteran surfer Haydon Burford has developed a wetsuit fabric that prevents the razor-sharp teeth of sharks from puncturing human flesh.
The fabric has been validated by a scientific research report released yesterday by Flinders University, South Australia.
Originally from South Australia, Mr Burford said he had been a keen surfer for more than 50 years.
He came up with the idea for SharkStop amid concerns about the increase in shark attacks in the region, and around the world, over the past two decades.
"Sitting around the kitchen table one night discussing the third death in a year from shark attacks in the Byron Bay area, my partner of 30 years Liz said, 'It's surprising no one's come up with a shark-proof wetsuit'," Mr Burford said.
The seed was planted and set Mr Burford off on his own quest for a suitable material.
He now holds a provisional patent for "SharkStop", which combines materials used in military armour and additional features that "will be very annoying for sharks", he said.
Over the last three years he has spent countless hours researching and testing with support from Andrew Fox, director of the world-renowned Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions.
This led to a research project funded by the NSW Government and carried out at South Australia's Flinders University by Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers.
Research by Flinders University that supports the effectiveness of the fabric was released yesterday, following extensive peer review: "Effectiveness of novel fabrics to resist punctures and lacerations from white shark: Implications to reduce injuries from shark bites".
The fabric has been put through rigorous tests with great whites in their natural habitat near the seal colonies of the Neptune Islands off Port Lincoln, SA.
For those who say no amount of fabric can withstand the jaws of a great white, the research has found that the creatures are often dissuaded from a bone crushing grip if they cannot draw blood on their first approach.
"Most shark deaths come from bleeding out, whereas bones can heal," Mr Burford said.
"The research has been peer reviewed and found that the fabric can withstand the brutal force of a shark bite while sustaining only minimal pinprick damage.
"During the testing, the sharks didn't like the texture because the fibre would snag on their teeth - they'd take one bite but not another,"
"It's also environmentally better. If we can potentially get enough people into the wetsuits - we could start to get rid of nets and drum lines - which a lot of people are against because of al the animals harmed trying to protect beach goers from sharks."
The next crucial step for Mr Burford is to fund the completion of a commercial product.
"We are still refining it but it's getting better- we have hoping to have a prototype in 6 months," he said.
"Once the prototype is out and the public sees it could hit the shelves after a few months."
"We believe the initial market would be the 70 million divers around world and we're in discussions with a wide range of manufacturers.
"Rather than a suit made entirely from SharkStop, we envision it would be adapted into existing fabrics to protect crucial attack points. Apart from its strength, the fabric has other qualities which also help to discourage sharks.
"We'd be happy to hear from anyone interested in being first to market with a true shark-proof wetsuit."
He said the wetsuits would be about 25 per cent dearer than quality wetsuits on the market.
Mr Burford can be contacted on 04490 128 761 or firstname.lastname@example.org