The bull shark is commonly found in shallow waters along coastlines, and is also known for its aggressive nature. Photo by Albert Kok.
Fear and frustration has gripped the Indian Ocean island of Reunion’s surfer community, which has taken emergency measures to address a recent spate of shark attacks. There have been two incidents of shark attacks in almost as many weeks, one of which was deadly, the other leaving the victim severely injured.
The most recent attack took place on Sunday at popular surf spot Saint-Leu, located on the western part of the island. A surfer was in the water with his board when he was mauled by a shark. The local man, 40, “was swimming on his board when the shark bit his hand”, his friend told AFP news agency. “He was then pulled down into the deep where the shark tore off his foot. He was able to get back to the beach by himself where friends slowed down the bleeding by fixing tourniquets until emergency services arrived,” the witness added.
On July 23 in the neighbouring resort of Trois Bassins a 22 year-old surfer was found dead after a similar shark attack. In total three people have been killed in seven different shark attacks on surfers in Reunion since January 2011.
Both surfers and fishermen are calling for radical action to be taken to prevent further attacks which include culling the sharks. The drastic measure has been defended by Thierry Robert, mayor of Saint-Leu, who passed a decree last week authorising the catching of a bull shark suspected of being behind the attacks. However, France’s overseas minister has openly opposed the idea of a regulated cull.

“If nothing is done now the sharks will soon go after swimmers”

Jeremy Attyasse is a surfer and also serves as director of the Reunion Surfer’s League.
There is a sense of anger among the surfers because thousands of euros have been spent on research but no concrete decision has been taken by CHARC. [CHARC, which stands for Knowledge of Habitat and Ecology, studies two shark species found off Reunion’s west coast. The 700,000-euro programme was launched in October 2011 with the aim of analysing the sharks’ behaviour to better understand the risks they posed].
Surfing was banned in Saint Leu after Sunday’s attack, but bathing and swimming are still permitted. I haven’t surfed for several days because I have an obsessive fear of sharks. A solution needs to be found soon because things can’t continue like this. In my opinion radical measures, such as hunting sharks in the high risk areas, need to be taken because human lives are in danger. When a dog kills someone in the street it is put down and nobody asks any questions.
There are several factors that could explain the recent rise in shark attacks. Surfers and fisherman have said that the sharks are appearing nearer to the coast because they are attracted by the fish at the nearby marine reserve. [Scientists at the marine reserve, which is in charge of the maritime zone where Saint Leu is found, refute this argument, saying records show that the reserve’s fish population has only risen slightly since its creation in 2007]. Companies who dump their waste into the sea should also be researched to see whether the practice has attracted a greater number of sharks to the coast. [According to marine reserve scientist Pascale Chabanet, waste from urbanisation could explain the encroachment of sharks close to the reefs].
 Jeremy Attyasse surfing in Reunion.
"It's important avoid suring at dawn and as the sun goes down because these are peak attack times"
There are several possible solutions to end or at least limit shark attacks. In South Africa they have taken radical prevention measures that have proved successful. They have placed anti-shark nets in zones dedicated to surfing and swimming. Obviously this method can be dangerous for the environment because the nets can also trap turtles, dolphins and whales but it is a solution nonetheless. In Australia they use drum lines. [A drum line is a system that consists of a drum with two lines attached to it - one is fixed to an anchor, and the other to a baited hook]. These have proved effective and have considerably reduced the risk of attacks. It is also important not to surf in murky waters because there is reduced visibility, and it is crucial to avoid the sea at dawn and as the sun goes down, because these are peak attack times.
Surfers, beachgoers and the authorities all need to get round a table to find a solution as soon as possible, because the situation is serious. It’s true that we have had shark attacks on the island before but never as many as this. Surfers are obviously really addicted to their passion and they are often portrayed as enemies of the environment, but if we ban surfing sharks will simply come closer to the coast and go after swimmers. We have to do everything we can to stop sharks from encroaching on our waters.