Nikki Starr is looking forward to becoming a regular ocean swimmer.
The activity has always interested the Esperance resident, but despite having some of the world’s most spectacular beaches on her doorstep, she never felt entirely comfortable staying in the water too long.
But this week the finishing touches were put on a shark-proof barrier surrounding a floating pontoon at the town beach, which Ms Starr thinks will be a game-changer.
“Although I’m a reasonable swimmer I’ll never go very far out and I’ll never swim much of a distance [at the Esperance beaches],” she said.
“I think the chance of sharks is very slim, but I think it’s always in the back of your mind when you can’t see the bottom.
Esperance has seen three deadly shark attacks since 2017.
Since then, quite a few locals have avoided the ocean, despite previously spending their lives around it.
“I’ve lived in Esperance my whole life and spent the first 30 years in the ocean,” another beachgoing local, Kerry, told the ABC.
“But honestly, since all the shark [attacks] I rarely go in.
The new facility cost $832,000 all up — with the shire receiving $432,000 in federal funding for the shark barrier and $400,000 from the state government for the lap pontoon.
As well as a safe swimming enclosure, which is more than 300 metres long, lane ropes are set up so people can swim laps.
Esperance Shire president Ian Mickel believes it is money well spent.
However, it will require ongoing maintenance from the shire, which it forecasts will cost about $66,000 a year.
Mr Mickel said the shark barrier will be checked on every 30 days by the company that installed it
Surfers and divers still at risk
Some have pointed out that surfers and divers tend to be the ones most at risk from shark attacks and the investment will not make the water any safer for them.
“Certainly, there will be ongoing issues about how that’s dealt with.”
Other state government programs have been put in place to protect surfers and divers; in May, $7.8 million was directed towards rebates for shark deterrents and upgrades to the shark monitoring network, which allows tagged sharks to be tracked in real time.
Three Esperance beaches have shark alarms and detection systems set up.
But some local surfers have long called for tougher shark mitigation methods, including the removal of sharks from popular beaches using a SMART drumline.
But regardless of the safety aspect, it is believed the new facility will be a drawcard for tourists this summer, as will many other recent additions to the Esperance town centre.
The new jetty was opened earlier this year, the shire-leased caravan park has just had a major upgrade completed and an e-scooter hire company has just started operating.