Since Reunion’s surf ban was extended last year the French government has declared the world-class left-hand pointbreak of St Leu, once host to Rip Curl’s world tour Search event, off limits. Adrien Toyon, back in 2011.
While Reunion Island has long been known as a sharky surf zone, never has the popular French Indian Ocean tourist destination experienced such a horrific pattern of attacks as in the last few years.
A total of 10 in the last 3 years. 5 of them fatal. An outbreak of bull shark attacks that at first glance closely resembles Recife, even if the reasons for it might not be identical.
Opinions between scientists, surfers, divers and fishermen remain divided, but a 20-kilometre stretch of coast set aside as a marine conservation reserve on the west side of the island, as well as a big open ocean fish farm (closed in 2012) are thought to be partly responsible.
Set up in 2007 to safeguard endangered coral and barrier reef, the reserve’s food sources but also much more likely the fish farms and associated concentrated waste are thought to have drawn the bull sharks to the area, with the reserve also acting as a refuge from fishermen. According to a study made in Hawaii, fish farms are known to attract many sharks, including tiger.
That said, it’s likely there are other contributing factors as to why the bull shark population has become so aggressive in the area: unsustainable tourism (leading to poor water and waste management on the island) and fishing practices no doubt also playing a part too.
Having introduced a shark-monitoring programme in 2011, local authorities were initially reluctant to introduce any culling measures (surfers being accused of taking irresponsible risks), but three further attacks in 2012 would force local authorities to come back on their decision, introducing an initial 20-shark cull despite world-renowned Belgian free-diver Frederic Buyle stating there weren’t that many sharks in the area.
Last July the death of a 15-year-old swimmer just meters away from the shore spurred authorities to implement a further 90-shark cull as well as a near-total ban on swimming and surfing, the results of which are due to be reviewed again this month.