Reunion Island Surfers Test Sharky Waters in Wake of Tragedies

by Owen James Burke

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A Reunion surfer, with friend in tow. Reunion Island may be home the single-most sharky shores in the world, but not even the government will keep surfers out of the water. Photo: Swellbrains.

We’ve all been swimming and surfing with sharks, whether we like to accept it or not. It’s not something most of us dwell on, and it’s not something we’d like to encourage our readers to dwell on either–it’s not worth it. But, Reunion Island is just one of those shark feeding hubs where there have been at least 14 shark attacks in the past 4 years–7 of them deadly.

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Reunion Island also happens to be home to some of the world’s best surf. Photo: Raphael Fredefon/Surfline

In July 2013, Government officials closed the island to surfing because the attacks were becoming so frequent, but the ban is almost entirely ineffective, according to teenage local Damien Ferrere, who lives on the south end of the island:

“I think it’s stupid. I’m shocked they banned surfing in the area. …If we want to surf, we risk 38€ and possible prison time. If I want to surf, I will.”

This past March, officials began allowing “elite” locals back into the water as guinea pigs in order to test “risk reduction devices.” These devices included nets, electrical barriers to deter the sharks through their electromagnetic sensors (ampullae of Lorenzini), drum lines with baited hooks, portable electronics, shark patrol units onshore and on boats and in the water with spearguns.

In a comment on a Surfer magazine online post, Reunion Island local Stan-Malo Gesnel attacked government officials for the implementation of a marine reserve along the island’s surf breaks and beaches saying that bull sharks had come onto the reefs to prey on smaller sharks and decimated those populations. While the marine reserve is aimed at offsetting the colossal mess of big fisheries, it is impacting the local ecosystem more directly, and in Gesnel’s eyes, more detrimentally.

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Elio Canestri, 13, one of Reunion Island’s up-and-coming junior surfers, was surfing with seven friends at Les Aigrettes, Reunion Island when a shark grabbed his arm, leg and abdomen. He was pulled from the water by a boat checking buoys for shark tag-related information, but Canestri did not survive the wounds. Photos: Surfer Magazine.

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Now, after 5 shark bites off the Carolina coast within just weeks, is it time to take these field tests stateside?

If you’re keen on getting involved in the research, or happen to be an innocent victim of incessant fear mongering (no judgement), you may want to look into purchasing, or rather investing–it’s not cheap–in Sea Change’s Shark Shield ($800). If you do, don’t hesitate to hail the bridge and let us know how it goes! -OJB

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