Just when the Esperance and Singleton communities begin to recover from last year’s shark attack, reports flood in on Monday morning of two surfers bitten near Gracetown in the south-west.
Within just hours and kilometres of each other, two men were attacked, both escaping with minor injuries.
The terrifying incidents which involved one surfer fighting off a great white came as the Singleton community marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of resident Laeticia Brouwer, at Esperance’s popular surf break, Kelp Beds last Easter.
A year on, her parents and WA's opposition government have called on Labor to adopt state-of-the-art drumline technology to steer sharks away from popular holiday beaches.
Like many West Australian’s, the 17-year-old Singleton girl loved the ocean and surfing was one of her many passions.
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The death didn’t just shock the close-knit communities of Singleton and Esperance, it sent ripples through Australia.
The tragedy sparked calls for reviews surrounding shark mitigation in WA.
Fisheries minister Dave Kelly said the McGowan Government had invested in a range of shark mitigation strategies for the WA coast to help protect beach users since being elected in March 2017.
These strategies include a world-first personal shark deterrent subsidy, funding Surf Life Saving WA beach, helicopter and drone patrols, expanding the Shark Monitoring Network to Esperance, tagging operations, funding Beach Emergency Number signs and provided funding for a swimming enclosure at Falcon.
Immediate notification following shark sightings
Laeticia’s parents, Leon and Julie, say they would never have entered the water at Kelp Beds Beach if there was signage informing the public a shark had recently been spotted.
In fact, the couple admitted they didn’t even know there had been a shark attack at the Kelp Beds surf break a couple years before.
The couple who are from Singleton, just north of Mandurah, were visiting Esperance during the Easter holiday period.
Shockingly, Esperance's Ocean Safety and Support Group founder Mitch Capelli said the attack didn't come as a surprise to locals, with sharks acting aggressively in the area months before-hand.
“People don’t really like hearing it but the last attacks at Kelp Beds with Sean Pollard and Laeticia Brouwer have been 100 per cent preventable,” he said.
He said it was "only a matter of time".
Mr Capelli established the group after Laeticia’s death and has since advocated for measures to improve ocean and shark safety.
It was just east of Wylie Bay, where Sean Pollard was attacked by two great white sharks in October 2014.
The Bunbury man lost his left arm and right hand in the attack.
“We did not know that there had been a shark attack at Kelp Beds,” Julie told the Mandurah Mail.
Since the attack, the heartbroken couple has pushed for more immediate notifications that sharks had been sighted.
“As far as we know, Esperance has been putting signs out at beaches where sharks are seen,” she said.
“The initial idea was to also have signs at beaches where there has been known previous attacks.
“Much like warnings about 4WD conditions or the presence of dangerous jelly fish.”
Fisheries minister Dave Kelly said the department was investigating adding lights and sirens to the Shark Monitoring Network receivers, now located off Esperance beaches.
Drumlines and shark nets
Shadow minister for tourism and small business Libby Mettam said the fatality last year was tragic.
“Like many Western Australians my heart goes out to the Brouwer family, and to others who have been impacted by this tragic event,” Ms Mettam said.
She called on the state government to start with an immediate trial of the Shark Management Alert in Real Time (SMART) drumlines.
“The Minister for Fisheries should start with an immediate trial of the SMART Drumlines,” she said.
“Refusing to consider the use of additional measures to reduce the risk of shark attacks, is not taking this public safety issue seriously.
“Evidence at a Senate Estimates committee last month from the Federal Department of Environment and Energy highlighted the success of the SMART drumline trails in parts of NSW and Victoria in both mitigating against shark attacks, and their positive impact on shark behaviour.
“SMART drumlines are different to the traditional drumlines in that once sharks are caught on a SMART drumline an alert is sent to authorities after which the shark is tagged for future monitoring and research and then released.
“Scientists monitoring the behaviour of these tagged sharks at a trial in NSW have reported that once they have an encounter with a SMART drumline and are released, the sharks do not come back.”
Mr Capelli echoed Ms Mettam’s sentiments on SMART drumlines and said he was frustrated by the inaction of those in power.
Mr Kelly said there was no evidence that the use of drumlines made WA beaches safer.
“The McGowan Government is committed to methods that are backed by science,” he said.
“It is worth noting that despite the extensive use of drumlines and nets on the east coast there have been more than double the number of shark attacks in the last five years, compared to shark attack numbers in WA.”
Mr Kelly didn’t comment specifically on SMART drumlines.
Personal devices to deter sharks
Mr Kelly said overall, the government’s personal shark deterrent rebate had been embraced by Western Australians.
The shark shield program was an election promise of the McGowan Government, which will pay a $200 rebate on the first 1000 shark deterrent devices sold.
After the first 1000 were sold, the government extended its cap.
Since it was first introduced more than 1650 Western Australians have purchased a device to better protect themselves in the ocean.
The government has capped the subsidy at 2000.
“It is not practical to have beach enclosures at every surf break or dive locations along our more than 12,000kms of coastline,” Mr Kelly said.
“That is why by providing individual protection through our personal shark deterrent subsidy to those most at risk - surfers and divers - makes the most sense.
“Time and time again we have seen the Opposition call into question the effectiveness of the approved device available under the McGowan Government’s world-first shark deterrent subsidy.
“This is despite the fact the previous Liberal-National Government paid for the scientific research that proves the device works on 9 out of 10 occasions against a great white shark.”
Ms Mettam hit back at the Labor government though, stating the subsidy wasn’t “sufficient” in meeting the state’s safety needs.
“A singular focus on providing a subsidy to a select few for a repellent device that many can’t afford is not sufficient,” she said.
“There is no questioning that there is a greater shark presence in our local waters, which is why it vital that the State Government have a comprehensive shark mitigation strategy that will ensure the safety of all beach users.”
Senate committee looks into mitigation measures
An Australian senate inquiry undertaken late last year, found that lethal drum lines and shark nets across Australia should be immediately phased out.
The Environment and Communications References Senate Committee into Shark Mitigation and Deterrent Measures tabled a list of 20 recommendations to improve ocean safety.
Mr Kelly said implementing recommendations from the report was out of the state government’s hands.
“This is a Federal Government report and the recommendations of that report are for the Federal Government to implement,” he said.
“It is worth noting that the report recommends the McGowan Government’s world-first personal shark deterrent subsidy be adopted Australia-wide.”
Could drones be the answer?
Leon and Julie Brouwer both agree surveillance would be a huge advanced for beach goers.
“Eyes on the water from a vantage point is one of the easiest things families or mates can do, as well as the use of drones and cameras,” Julie said.
“Organised surveillance… is also becoming more and more important in the more well-known or populated areas, and so much more can be done in this space, but in other areas, families and mates can also play a big role.”
Mr Kelly said the State Government would continue to look for any new measures that are proven to actually make our beaches safer.
“The Government sees the potential for drones as a shark mitigation tool and recently provided funding for Surf Life Saving to use drones to assist with their patrols at several beaches along our coast,” he said.
“We hope to see this expand to more WA beaches in the future as the technology further develops.”
Past shark attacks in WA
Since 2000, 13 of the 15 fatal shark attack victims in WA have been surfers or divers.
In May 2017, Ben Gerring, 29, died following an attack at Falcon Beach, near Mandurah, while a month later 60-year-old Doreen Collyer died after a great white attack in Mindarie, just north of Perth.