BUNBURY’S coastal lifestyle and tourism industry is on its way back to full strength after taking a hit from shark attack phobia in recent years.
Local scuba diving shop Coastal Water Dive has observed a significant turning point this month after fear of the ocean almost put them out of business about three years ago.
Owner Torry Goodall worked throughout the night on Monday filling tanks for local divers, with more than 380 coming through the doors across the weekend.
Mr Goodall said he was seeing people return to the Albert Street business that he had not seen in four years.
The trend comes despite a recent warning from psychologists that sharks had changed the way West Australians think about the beach, which could have a long-term impact on sports, recreation and tourism.
The Australian Psychological Society says a range of consequences stemming from heighted shark paranoia include less ocean-related physical activity, complications for competitive ocean athletes, heightened anxiety and children and parents fearing the ocean.
The most recent attack that hit close to home was in October when Bunbury man Sean Pollard lost both his hands off the Esperance coast but managed to survive.
But Mr Goodall said the local turning point was unmistakable, with hundreds of people “dusting off their gear and wanting to jump back in.”
The interest has been sparked by a thriving crayfish population, with South West divers catching their quota within 20 minutes.
“Our business took a 50 per cent hit about three years ago which correlated with the first major attack and the first attack on a scuba diver,” Mr Goodall said.
“It was touch-and-go for a while there and if I hadn’t had the commercial diving side of my business it could have been the end.
ONCE THEY HAVE BEEN BACK IN THE WATER THEY ARE REMINDED OF WHY THEY LOVED DIVING IN THE FIRST PLACE.
“I did notice on an overcast day last week it got quiet so people are paying attention to advice that those sort of days can be a shark risk – but once they have been back in the water they are reminded of why they loved diving in the first place.”
Perth-based sports psychologist and College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists chair Shayne Hanks said he was concerned there could be a generation of young children who were “too scared to get into the water,” which could lead to inactivity and contribute to childhood obesity.
Mr Goodall agreed that Bunbury’s beaches were not as populated as they used to be.
“I miss the days when you would go down to Back Beach and see hundreds of families enjoying the water, you just don’t see that anymore,” he said.
“But a lot of tourists are coming back to see Bunbury’s dolphins and are asking questions about the Lena dive wreck.
“People should be able to enjoy our beautiful coastline – I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where people are afraid of the ocean.”