Indian Ocean paradise island beset by shark controversy
Sharks of Reunion Island
The dangers of shark attacks are no secret for Georges, who as a kid was repeatedly warned to beware of the large predators lurking in the tropical waters off his native Reunion island, AFP reports.
That was several decades ago, and the issue since then has mushroomed in the French Indian Ocean island following several deadly shark attacks, sparking a tug of war between those who want to protect the fish and those who would like to see preventative culls.
“We always talked about sharks in the Reunion. When I was a kid, our parents were already warning us,” said Georges, who did not give his surname, as he took in the rays on a beach protected from the sea predators by a coral reef.
But the 48-year-old, who now lives in mainland France and was holidaying on the island, said the issue had become increasingly high-profile in recent years, “because the attacks have multiplied.”
Since 2011, there have been 12 shark attacks in the Reunion, of which five were deadly.
Just this year, a French honeymooner died when he was attacked by a shark as he surfed, and a teenage girl was killed while swimming just metres from the shore.
Swimmers, tourists, surfers, fishermen, politicians, authorities, activists: all have firm — and often discording — opinions on how to handle a situation that is harming the Reunion’s reputation as a paradise destination.
While none deny that shark numbers have increased, they differ on the reasons for this recent spike.
Some point to the wastewater that is discarded into the sea from ever-expanding urbanised zones, full of organic compounds that the sharks come to devour.
Others blame the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long natural marine reserve along the coast — created in 2007 — where fishing is either banned or strictly regulated.
“This reserve has become a pantry for sharks,” one surfer said.
“They settle where they know they can feed themselves.”
— Preventive culls —
And aside from the reserve, professional shark fishing in general has come to a halt.
In 1999, authorities banned the commercialisation of sharks on the island as the fish was thought to be contaminated with ciguatoxins, poisonous organic compounds that cause serious food poisoning.
Then in 2004, those who traded in shark fins — a hugely controversial delicacy in some Asian countries — were banned from fishing sharks.
Faced with the increase in the sea predators and following the deadly attacks, the prefect of the island announced a slew of measures in July, including banning swimming, surfing and bodyboarding off more than half of the coast.
He also said 90 sharks would be culled — 45 bull sharks and 45 tiger sharks — on top of the 20 already killed as part of scientific research into ciguatera, the illness caused by eating fish flesh contaminated with ciguatoxins.
But he acknowledged the cull was not only scientific but also aimed at “reducing the shark population”.
Thierry Robert, a prominent politician on the island, has called for more “preventative culls”.
But the idea has been slammed by environmentalists keen to protect sharks, some of which are seriously threatened worldwide.
Didier Derand of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, an animal rights organisation, is challenging the existing cull in court.
He is being assisted by Sea Shepherd, the international marine wildlife conservation organisation, “because we need worldwide awareness of the organised massacre of sharks.”
According to Sea Shepherd, 100 million sharks are killed each year by sport fishermen or by those who practice shark finning, which consists of catching the fish and slicing off their fins while they are still alive.
The organisation says sharks are being depleted faster than they can reproduce, threatening the stability of marine ecosystems around the world.
Authorities in the Reunion island are also looking at other ways to protect swimmers, such as using aerial balloons equipped with surveillance cameras and alert systems when they detect movement in the water.
The island’s Saint-Paul district has opted for drum lines, devices fixed with hooks that are meant to capture sharks.
Meanwhile, surfers and bodyboarders say they refuse to be sacrificed in the name of marine conservation.
“We have to stop this worldwide lobbying that advocates the protection of sharks,” says Jean-Francois Nativel, head of the Ocean Prevention Reunion association, which works on reducing the risks of shark attacks.
“We’re in the era of Flipper the shark. We have to break the taboos… We have to bring back fishing, and put the shark back in the plates of Reunion people,” he said.
But Jean-Rene Enilorac, head of the regional fishing committee, was dubious.
“Even if there is no longer a risk of ciguatera, I’m not sure the Reunion inhabitants will eat shark again,” he said.
“Who will want to eat a fish, imagining it maybe devoured a human being?”
YOU SEE THEM ON SHARK WEEK – GET TO KNOW THEM IN PERSON
Some of the world’s top shark celebrities scientists, TV hosts, underwater photographers, filmmakers and conservationists are on the auction block at Bidding for Good during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
The aim of the auction is twofold: To spotlight individuals and organizations working effectively to protect sharks, and raise funds for field research and shark conservation programs.
Up for auction is lunch or dinner with a shark celebrity. Bid on Dr. Sylvia Earle, the most eloquent spokesperson for ocean conservation and Explorer in Residence of the National Geographic Society or Dr. Leonard Compagno, the top expert on sharks and author of the first-ever field guide to sharks: Sharks of the World’. How about dinner with Chris Fallows of ‘Air Jaws’ fame, dive legend Gary Gentile, or Armand “Zig” Zigahn, founder of Beneath the Sea, the largest consumer dive and travel show in the USA? Thousands of divers have learnd about sharks and the need for their conservation through Beneath the Sea!
Also being auctioned are Al Brenneka, founder of Shark Attack Survivors, Shark Year Magazine; scientists Dr. Neil Hammershlag, Dr. Gordon Hubbell and Dr. Jennifer Schmidt; underwater photographers Amos Nachoum and Paul Spielvogel; sculptor Victor Douieb; Jim Toomey, creator of the syndicated comic strip Sherman’s Lagoon; artists Richard Ellis and Pascal Lecocq; television hosts and Richard Weise host of ABC’sf Born to Explore, Jonathan and Christine Bird, and Donald Schultz; filmmakers Nancy McGee, Joe Romeiro, and Jeff Kurr; authors Paul Mila, Juliet Eilperin and Jessica Speart; and conservationists from the American Littoral Society, Mission Blue-Google Ocean, Ocean Geographic Society, Sea Save, Shark Whisperer, Sharks International, SharkProtect, Shark Research Institute and other fine organizations. These are just a few of the dozens of “shark celebs” to be auctioned. Each one of them has a wealth of expertise and stories to share with their highest bidder.
Although most of the ‘celebs’ are in the USA, some are in Australia, Europe, South Africa and Hong Kong.
How it works: Bid on a shark expert or celebrity that lives or works nearby, unless you are willing to drive or fly to their location. The winning bidder pays for the celebrity’s meal, and may bring guests. Shark Research Institute will introduce each winning bidder to his or her shark celebrity. The two then set a mutually convenient date, time and place to get together within 365 days of the close of the auction.
The auction starts August 9, 2013 at 9 pm EST and runs for 10 days. The auction catalog is on the Shark Research Institute’s home page at www.sharks.org, and will have a link to directly enter the auction as soon as the auction opens.
Shark Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Winning bids are deductible as charitable contributions from US Federal 2013 income taxes.
Licay’s companions said the shark came out of nowhere and attacked him moments after he went into the water… They saw Licay fighting for his life as his right leg was chewed by the shark. The group tried to extricate Licay from the shark’s mouth but it held on to its prey…
Licay died a few minutes after he was released by the shark due to excessive loss of blood.
Because Diego Garcia is a British Indian Ocean territory, the British government is investigating the incident alongside the U.S. Navy.
One of Perth’s biggest scuba diving businesses has had to offer extraordinary discounts to lure people into the water after an unprecedented spate of shark attacks slashed its profitability.
Perth Diving Academy, which has shops in Hillarys and Balcatta and runs diving courses off Perth, said its business was so badly affected by hysteria over the attacks it was offering the “no chicken special”.
Under the deal with the advertising pitch “gutsy divers wanted”, customers are credited the $495 cost of the academy’s training course for use on later dives.
“With all the bad media about sharks, you would think the waters around Perth are shark infested, with divers being eaten every day,” the advertisement says.
“The reality is there are more sharks but the risk of a shark attack is still lower than dying from a bee sting.
“Shark hype keeps people who are chicken out of the water. We don’t want chickens, we want keen people who want to go diving.”
Simon Jones, a part owner the academy, said the five fatal shark attacks in 10 months in 2011 and 2012 undoubtedly scared people away from diving.
Mr Jones said as diving course participation fell away, turnover plummeted about 25 per cent, costing the academy hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite the setback, the 56-year-old said the retail offer appeared to be working and the number of people signing up to the course had returned to normal.
“I can’t counter people’s fears and all the hype,” Mr Jones said.
“All I can do is say, ‘yes, there’s a risk but it’s minuscule, come out, we’ll show you how to do it and you’ll have a fantastic time’.
“We need to get people in because we know that if we don’t get people in doing the courses, you don’t sell them the gear, you don’t get them out on the boat doing dives and all of a sudden our business, which was doing quite nicely, just dries up.
“Any diving business in Perth that tells you it hasn’t had a downturn in the past couple of years is lying to you.”
Sources: The West Australian, Perth Diving Academy Hillarys.
Daniel Mercer, The West Australian,
March 18, 2013
Surfing businesses in Western Australia are suffering because the increase in shark sightings and attacks is scaring their customers out of the water.
Surf stores and schools in the “shark attack capital of the world” have sustained a drop in sales of surfboards, surfing lessons and water-based leisure equipment, with one Dunsborough store reporting last winter was the quietest they’d seen in 20 years.
Certainly the winter was the quietest we’ve seen in 20 years
Coastal businesses suffer every time a siren sounds, said Ross Rutherford, owner of Soul Boardstore in Scarborough.
“Certainly over part of last year in the heat of the shark sightings in December when there were sirens every day, we lost about 20 per cent” Mr Rutherford said.
The issue was even more pronounced in the South West, where there were fewer people in the water, said Mr Rutherford.
WA earned its deadly moniker after five fatal attacks in twelve months (three of which were at South West beaches) and aerial patrols were increased as a result.
Sales of surf boards dropped significantly after the patrols’ increase in sightings, as did the number of people in the water, said Mark Hills, founder of Hillzeez surf store in Busselton and manager of Yahoo Surfboards in Dunsborough.
“Certainly the winter was the quietest we’ve seen in 20 years,” Mr Hills said.
“It affects the entry-level surfer which is the cream of our business because entry-evel surfing was at an all-time high until the shark attacks.”
Mr Hills said while most experienced surfers said they weren’t put off by the sightings, even he couldn’t help be affected by attacks, after 30 years in the industry.
“I was in the water on Father’s Day when the body-boarder was taken, I had both my sons in the water,” he said.
“Now a year and a half later, whether consciously or subconsciously, we haven’t been surfing there.
“Anecdotally people are wary of certain spots, where there are more sightings or there has been an attack.”
Other businesses were affected too, Mr Hills said.
“We’re right next to a dive shop and they’ve been affected in there; again it’s the entry-level diver, rather than the mature diver, that might have booked a dive and changed their mind,” he said.
Brighton surf school owner Paul Lofthouse said 2013 began with the “worst January we’ve ever had” in Go Surf’s eight-year history.
“It was definitely the shark thing, it doesn’t matter how much you explain to people that it’s a safe beach, it’s such a big fear factor,” he said.
When a large group of at least 100 sharks was spotted off Trigg Beach on March 19, the words “shark” and “Trigg” were trending on Twitter within the hour.
Mr Lofthouse said since shark sightings had become such a hot issue, news spread more quickly than ever before and the perception of attack was worse than the reality.
“People think it’s gotten worse but it hasn’t,” he said.
“The great white shark attacks that have occurred are way off the coast, not at Scarborough Beach.
“I had tourists telling us, they came from Germany, it was on the news saying it’s too dangerous to go to Australia.
“I’ve had people say they’re too scared to go in the water.
“You’ve got more chance of being in a car accident than being eaten by a shark.”
RETURNING TO THE WATER
All three business owners said that business began to pick up once more when there had been a reprieve from sightings.
“Humans memories are pretty short if something hasn’t happened in a month then it starts to go back to normal,” Mr Hills said.
While many surfers returned to the ocean because of the low odds of an attack, 22-year-old Ben Towers said he and his brother stayed out of the water since their encounters with sharks.
“I had an encounter when scuba diving up north when a wobbegong shark bumped me while diving and even though they are essentially harmless I cut short my diving experience,” Towers said.
“My brother actually refuses to go in the water anymore because of an incident where he saw a fin and a large shadow only meters away.
“He’s only been back in the water a handful of times since the incident over 10 years ago.”
A lot of surfers were also pressured by their families to give up their water sports and parents were looking for alternative sports for their children, said Mr Rutherford.
“I think a lot of my customers are mature family sort of people, they were getting pressure from other family members about surfing and the guilt they’d feel if they had their kids in surfing lessons,” Mr Rutherford said.
Mr Hills agreed: “A big part of that is more so surfers’ partners, it’s their wives, girlfriends and mothers. A lot of shark defence systems are bought by them.”
While sales of boards suffered, store owners noted a sharp increase in sales of shark repellent devices following attacks.
“They’ve been very busy over the last year,” Mr Rutherford said.
“We’ve been selling them for quite a few years and there’s always a spike in sales when there is an incident.”
Mr Hills said he’d originally hidden the product in the Dunsborough store because they “didn’t want to talk about sharks”, but the shields had become a popular product.
“Before the shark attacks I sold one in four years,” he said.
“Last September when there was a shark sighting in Yallingup and we sold 60 in a month.
“It may not stop a large shark but certainly when we started selling the shark defence systems, I went and surfed to knock my own fear on the head.”
Two weeks after a fatal shark attack, things at Muriwai Beach are still a little different.
On a glorious summer’s day there is only a handful of people in the water, none much more than waist-deep.
Around at Maori Bay, the few surfers who are out half-jokingly talk about bringing out dive knives, and “shark” is the only English word used by Japanese tourists walking to the Gannet colony trail above.
But despite the quiet, the surf lifesaving club is being kept busy with false alarms. One local, looking through a telescope, reported large, dark clumps of floating seaweed.
“It [the attack] brought a premature end to the season in many respects,” said Muriwai Lifeguard Service chairman Tim Jago. “Beach attendance levels have been well down. The number of people in the water is down, significantly, and the number of adult surfers is down, significantly.
“People I talk to, what you would call water people … I wouldn’t say they are reluctant to go in the water but there’s still a respect period in place. We’ll get back there, but it’s still just a little bit raw.”
Up above Maori Bay, surfer Jeremy Perkins, 21, said he had thought of the fatal shark attack “a little bit” while out in the water.
“I’ve heard a few guys talk about bringing out dive knives with them. But, nah, I’m not too worried at all. What was it, second one in 30 years?”
The lack of people around was remarkable, he said.
“We went to Muriwai and there were about two surfers in the water. The conditions aren’t the greatest, but you’d expect a few more out. A few more learners, a few more tourists.”
Local cabinet-maker Ross Grant, 36, said he had already gone for a swim and would probably have a surf today.
“I suppose it will be something extra you’ve got to think about. It’s just one of those things that can happen, eh? You know they [sharks] are out there. Probably just don’t think about how close they are.”
Mr Jago said that while adults had been cautious about returning to the water, younger people had been more enthusiastic.
About 650 children had been put through the club’s school programme since the attack. The programme was cancelled for a couple of days, but when it restarted no school pulled out.
He was proud of the way his team, some of whom went out to the scene of the attack and retrieved victim Adam Strange’s body, had come through a traumatic event.
“What they’ve seen was not very pleasant at all. But all were back on the job as soon as rostered. Three of the four worked the next day.”
It would take some time, but he felt the community was nearly back to normal.
Horror of death replays at night for teen witness
The nights are the worst for George Maoate, the 14-year-old who was surfing next to Adam Strange when the popular Muriwai local was fatally attacked by three sharks.
George, who is home-schooled and known locally as “the lawn boy” because of his successful weed eating side-business, said things were easier during the daytime.
“I’m pretty busy so I’m not really thinking about it. It’s just at night, I start worrying and stuff.”
A surfer for eight years, it had been difficult to return to the ocean.
“[It was] pretty creepy. I’m not really going out by myself. I’ve been in three times, and I’ve gone out with people. I’ve never been out by myself ever since.”
When might it feel normal again? “Probably in the next 10 years. I’m still getting over that hump. It’s one thing to watch someone you don’t know get in trouble, and then it’s another watching your friend.”
Apart from a near constant rumble of watertank refilling trucks, he said Muriwai was quiet.
“You drive out into town, you feel this different energy. And when you drive back into Muriwai there’s just this low environment, and it feels sort of dead, kind of. But we’ll get through, eventually.
“I reckon the community is cool, you know. They are really supportive. I have strangers stop right in front of the driveway and ask if I’m all right. I’m like, who are you? I guess everyone is in that same position I am.”
George has also acted on a long held ambition to join the surf-lifesaving club.
Muriwai Lifeguard Service chairman Tim Jago said George was “older than his years”.
“He knew that he needed to talk to people about this, and he knew that the people who would be talking about it would be up here in this building.
“So he made an intelligent decision to come and spend some time with us.
“Not surprisingly he was wobbly on a couple of occasions, but a number of us were. So it was good for him that we all got wobbly together.”
Last week a group of Mr Strange’s friends were sitting on the club house deck having a quiet drink when George came “hurtling across the sand dunes with his skateboard under his arm”.
“He ran up here, and without breaking a stride or missing a beat he said, ‘Surf’s perfect, it’s a metre, it’s offshore, I’m going home to get my board, see you guys there’.
“They all looked at him, looked at each other, burst out laughing and said, he’s laid the gauntlet down, how can we refuse? Dare I say it, if he hadn’t done that some of those guys would still be sitting there going, when am I going for my next surf?”