It seems that the debate around the cause and untimely death of local fisherman, Isaul Coba, has escalated into rumors and hearsay. Much speculation has been that Coba was the unfortunate victim of a shark attack. In an effort to resolve the mystery surrounding his death, an investigation by The San Pedro Sun found that the actual cause of death was not of a shark attack but of asphyxia due to drowning. Several dive guides and people in the community have expressed their concern towards this matter. The danger of speculating about something of this nature hinders not only our tourism industry but the community as well.
According to reports, on August 22nd, Isaul, 34, along with his eight-year-old son, 18-year-old Rowan Gonzalez, and three other male friends went spear fishing near the reef. The men anchored the boat and got in the water, leaving the eight-year-old on the boat. Unfortunately, the anchor line broke and the boat began to drift. In an effort to save his son, Coba began to swim to the boat but in his attempt he went under and did not resurface. The boat drifted to shore near Ramon’s Village with the child safely inside. The police department and the Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team (BDARRT) were immediately alerted and a search for Coba was launched. His body was not recovered until the next morning.
Our Caribbean waters are a premier location for diving, snorkeling and other water related activities. Unfounded rumors of bull sharks fatally wounding people can result in undue tourist alarm and community panic and it is essential that factual information be responsibly shared with the community regarding this unfortunate death. In a phone interview with Dr. Mario Estradaban, Coroner, The San Pedro Sun discovered that he had conducted the post mortem on Coba. He commented that his death was a result of aquatic trauma which caused him to drown. After his body was retrieved the following morning, his body was severely disfigured making “shark attack” the first speculation of his death.
Days after Coba’s death, island fishermen caught and killed a large bull shark off our waters, some speculating that the creature was a man-killer. This attitude upset some local guides who expressed concern about the unorthodox approach to alleviate the so-called problem. One local dive instructor commented, “People come to this country to see these magnificent underwater creatures and to alarm them of sharks in our waters and killing them on sight is pure nonsense, that is what [the tourists] come here to see.” For others the scenario took on the familiar “JAWS” panic mentality.
No one disputes that sharks reside in our waters but according to the Fisheries Department there has never been a shark attack recorded in Belize. Common sense can prevent compromising situations, like spear-fishing, swimming with an open wound, swimming at dusk or dawn or swimming alone. It is unfortunate that Isaul Coba lost his life in the sea, and it is unfortunate that rumors refuse to put him to rest. Although it is human nature to fuel such fears, in this case, according to the Coroner, they are not founded.