The West

A fatal crocodile attack in the State's north is inevitable, according to experts, after an increase in numbers of the aggressive saltwater animals and an influx of holidaymakers venturing into infested waters.

Renowned conservationist and crocodile expert Malcolm Douglas said yesterday it was only a matter of time before WA would have its first fatality since the death of American model Ginger Meadows in 1987.

Mr Douglas said non-fatal attacks would also rise as both tourists and workers ventured further into parts of the Kimberley without knowledge of how to act around the reptiles.

The chief zoologist at the Department of Environment and Conservation, Peter Mawson, who surveys saltwater crocodiles in northern WA, said numbers had increased tenfold in parts of the Ord River. Crocodiles were also travelling further south and had been spotted at the popular Tantabiddi Beach near Exmouth.

Dr Mawson said the likelihood of an attack had increased because people "don't believe or choose to ignore" signs warning them of the dangers.

It is estimated that WA's 4000-strong, protected saltwater crocodile population increases by about 40 each year. Along the Pilbara coastline, where 20 years ago the saltwater population was non-existent, there are now regular reports of sub to adult male crocodiles travelling up and down the coast. DEC Ord River surveys have also revealed increased numbers of larger crocodiles 3m to 4m in size.

"You're getting well into the size class of crocodiles that we would consider have the potential to take lives," Dr Mawson said.

"Everyone assumes that Lake Argyle has no saltwater crocodiles, well there's a few in there as the most recent survey confirmed," he said. "A lot of people go barramundi fishing in those areas and if you're not paying attention you're going to get a shock."

Dr Mawson listed fishing in knee-deep water, cleaning fish close to the shore at dark and letting dogs and children play unattended at a river as prime activities where people were putting themselves at risk.

The West Australian

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