Remembering Laeticia: Keeping our coastal communities safe | OPINION

Just when our 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.

It has been a difficult year for the Brouwer family.

A year is barely enough to catch your breath, particularly when you are still trying to comprehend, one of the most horrendous situations you could imagine.

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These tragedies have done more than shock our WA coastal communities, they’ve sparked fear in our hearts, of the ocean. 

A place where we all grew up.

Our love of the ocean is weaved in our national identity. 

Could these continued attacks change and challenge our way of life?

If future generations are discouraged from ocean activities in fear, does this risk our Australian culture for sun, sea and surf?

A keen surfer, a friend, a sister. Laeticia loved the ocean and her family. 

She carried unbridled joy into the surf but her life was cut short when she picked up her board and headed into the waves on April 17, 2017.

I was working as a journalist in Esperance when news hit of a shark attack.

The afternoon was like no other. There was grey skies overhead and the sound of sirens filtering throughout the small coastal town. It still sends shivers down my spine.

I covered the attack and have since followed the shark debate state-wide.

In the year since the fatal attack, I’ve taken up a new position at the Mandurah Mail, just down the road from Singleton, Laeticia’s hometown.

Also near Falcon where Ben Gerring was mauled by a shark while surfing in 2016.

From those utterly heartbreaking times, adversary and resilience have seen both the Brouwer and Gerring families advocate to prevent future fatalities.

I can’t even begin to imagine losing a loved one in such horrific circumstances. The strength these families have shown to force positive change is remarkable.

Ben Gerring's brother Rick spearheaded the campaign to introduce Beach Emergency Numbers (BEN) locally, which are universal codes that help authorities located people quicker in life-threatening situations.

Falcon attack: Surfers filtering onto the beach where Ben Gerring was attacked by a shark in 2016. Photo: Tenelle Dunseath.

Falcon attack: Surfers filtering onto the beach where Ben Gerring was attacked by a shark in 2016. Photo: Tenelle Dunseath.

Now, a year on from their daughter's death the Brouwer family are calling on both sides of government to do more.

Laeticia's mother Julie told me her idea to have warning signs at the entrance to each beach, informing people whether sharks had been sighted there before or if there was a previous attack. 

If we have kangaroo signs on the side of the road, telling us the hotspots, why can't we take that model and apply it to our beaches? Particularly popular spots like Kelp Beds Beach where Laeticia tragically died. 

Julie also discussed the need for people to look out for each other and to be more aware of potential dangers when in the ocean. 

I couldn't agree more. Our beautiful beaches should be enjoyed and our culture reflects that but there comes a point when people need to wake up to the risks. 

Then maybe the next time we open the paper, news of two consecutive attacks near Gracetown won't be splashed across the pages. 

Want to read more about shark safety in WA? Click on our related links above to see recent coverage from our journalists Caitlyn Rintoul and Jake Dietsch.