Reunion Island: swimming, surfing prohibited for fear of sharks
An island paradise in the Indian Ocean is so infested with sharks that swimming and surfing have been banned for fear of attack.
Sharks prowling in the waters off Réunion, near the coast of Madagascar, have killed 10 people in the past decade.
French territory has the highest rate of fatal shark attacks in the world with three deaths per million inhabitants – more than three times that of South Africa and far more than Australia and the United States .
Bull sharks – large and powerful creatures that can live in both saltwater and freshwater – are believed to be responsible for 90% of fatal attacks.
Surfing and swimming have been banned outside the island’s relatively safe coral lagoon, due to fears of attack, since 2013.
And now scientists are trying to figure out what caused the bloodshed.
Professor Erwann Lagabrielle’s mission is to understand why the waters around Réunion are so dangerous, 9 news reports.
His research shows that the probability of being attacked by a shark in Réunion has increased “by a factor of 23” since the 1980s.
Dr Lagabrielle was inspired to understand the island’s deadly conundrum after witnessing his friend’s attack by a 2m bull shark in 2015.
“It was like a horror movie,” he says.
While the friends were swimming in Saint-Leu, Dr Lagabrielle saw his friend Rodolphe Arriéguy being attacked just 20 meters from him.
“The water was white foam, then the white turned pink and the pink turned red,” he said.
“I swam up to my friend and it was the scariest thing – I was swimming against my own instincts.
Dr Lagabrielle discovered that his friend had been bitten on the arm and he made a makeshift tourniquet with his surfboard leash.
Managing to stop the bleeding, he then brought it back to shore.
His friend, 45, survived the attack – but lost his arm.
“The next question is, what can explain this increase?” Dr Lagabrielle said continuing his studies on the tip of shark attacks.
“It’s either an increase in the shark population or a change in their behavior.
“These can be explained by other factors such as the change in water temperature, fishing targeting shark populations.”
Around 30 people have been killed and 56 have been attacked while swimming off Réunion since 1913 – with 11 dead since 2006 and 10 since 2011.
Shark highway site for unexplained attacks
The island sits on a so-called “shark highway” in the Indian Ocean between Australia and South Africa.
Theories have suggested that its active Piton de la Fournaise volcano may help attract sharks.
Marine ecologist Michael Heithaus believes bull sharks could take advantage of the murky waters caused by volcanic sediment tumbling down the slopes.
The government of Réunion has attempted measures such as culling and investing in anti-shark studies in an attempt to contain the attacks.
Among the most recent suspicious attacks is Briton Richard Martyn Turner, 44, whose severed hand was found inside a tiger shark in November 2019.
Kim Mahbouli, 28, a French tourist, was attacked and killed by a shark while surfing in an area where swimming was prohibited in May 2019.
Fisherman Floris Huet died after a shark tore off his left leg while he was with friends in January 2019.
In 2020, there were 57 shark attacks in the deadliest year since 2013, with 10 unprovoked bites resulting in death.
The University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File suggested the death rate may be an anomaly as the total number of attacks continued to decline – saying “one year is not trending.”
It was previously speculated that the COVID pandemic causing more people to stay at home, overfishing or even a weather event in La Nina could have led to an increase in fatal bites.
Dr Blake Chapman, a marine biologist who examined the neuroscience of sharks for his doctorate, said Goalkeeper Australia some attacks with multiple bites suggest that sharks may be preyed on by humans.
“In some cases this year, it seems like the shark is dragging and biting more than once, which is unusual behavior for great white sharks,” she said.
“When they bite more than once it is more likely to be fatal because there is more blood loss.”
This article was originally published on The sun and has been reproduced with permission