13-year old Elio Canestri was attacked by a shark on Sunday morning whilst surfing at Les Agriettes, Réunion Island. He was bitten on his right arm, right leg and abdomen, sustaining wounds that proved fatal.
The promising young surfer was taking part in an official training session at the time of the attack. There is currently a ban on surfing on the island due to the high number of attacks in recent years, but lately steps were taken to allow some surfers back in the water in the form of training sessions for talented juniors, who were to be protected by divers armed with spear guns. Such measures were either not in place or proved ineffective in the case of Sunday’s session.
A nearby boat monitoring tagged sharks in the area pulled Elio from the water but were unable to treat his injuries successfully. Beaches were red-flagged all along the west coast where the attack took place, and local authorities say that specialist boats have been deployed to locate the shark.
French surfer Jeremy Flores, who was raised and learnt to surf on Réunion, wrote the following message on his Instagram:
“ANOTHER shark attack in Reunion island this morning. 13 years old Elio was one of our best up and coming surfer. Words can’t describe how sad and angry i am. So young !!! Heart breaking News . RIP 🙁 Petit Elio, 13 ans, a été attaqué par un requin ce matin au spot des “zaigrettes”. Il était un de nos meilleurs jeune espoir. Il avait toute la vie devant lui. J’ai la haine. Quelle tristesse… Repose en paix marmaille :(“
The situation on Réunion is a complicated one. This is the seventh shark attack fatality in the waters of Réunion Island in the last four years; earlier this year a 20-year old woman died of a cardiac arrest after she was attacked whilst swimming on the island’s southeast coast. Sharks had always been a factor for surfers on the island, but the recent preponderance of attacks — bearing in mind the vastly reduced number of water-users due to the ban — represents a dramatic increase, and has had a hugely detrimental effect on the island’s tourism industry.
The spike in attacks has generally been attributed to the creation of a marine reserve on the island’s west coast eight years ago, which it would seem has resulted in a breeding ground for bull sharks. “We used to see a lot of reef sharks and turtles,” Jeremy Flores told Beach Grit. “Now it’s… dead. Bull sharks are very territorial.” Last year Jeremy went back to Réunion for two weeks to see his family, but didn’t dare enter the water in spite of the pumping surf.
Flores says his father has been working tirelessly to get the local government to introduce protective nets, and advises surfers to stay out the water until such nets are in place. The local government recently announced that enough money had been raised to net three beaches around the St Gilles area. Read more of Jeremy’s thoughts on the issue here.