1. Réunion Island
1. Réunion Island
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 18 in the last 4 years. 7 of them were fatal. This despite the relatively low number of water users, which has decreased dramatically since this recent trend began. An outbreak of bull shark attacks that at first glance closely resembles the situation in Recife, although the reasons for it are very different.
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, in addition to the fish farm and the 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 conducted 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 playing a part. (The island’s tourism industry is now suffering greatly.)
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 go 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.
Two Julys ago 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. That ban, which was often flouted by the island’s hardier surfers, has since been relaxed somewhat, and the local government now provides guarded surf sessions two days a week, when the line-up is patrolled by a team of specially trained shark spotters. They’re armed with spear guns, but their job is not to kill sharks, rather it’s to raise the alarm and evacuate the water if a shark is spotted in the vicinity.
So far this year there have two fatalities caused by sharks, one of them 13 year-old Elio Canestri, one of the island’s most promising young surfers. Last year Réunion native Jéremy Flores spent two weeks on the island visiting family, and the surf pumped non-stop, but he dared not set foot in the water.