Shark threat closes Florida beach again
August 26, 2001 Posted: 10:45 PM EDT (0245 GMT)
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- A one-mile stretch of beach in east Florida remained closed for a fourth straight day Sunday, a rare move prompted by a rash of recent shark attacks.
Ben Gibbs, 18, spent Sunday recovering from foot and leg wounds, one day after being bitten by a shark one mile south of the closed beach in New Smyrna Beach.
He was the latest of at least 19 victims of shark attacks in the area this year, according to The Associated Press -- almost half the total number reported around the world.
As a result, beach access has been restricted since Thursday morning, an unprecedented step according to Beach Patrol Deputy Chief Joe Wooden.
"We never close for a full day," Wooden said. "You cannot launch a boat from the beach, you cannot walk off the beach to swim, boat or whatever, or surf."
Like most recent shark victims, Gibbs was drawn to the popular New Smyrna Beach area to surf.
"Something came out from underneath my feet. I thought it was one of my friends," Gibbs, a native of Casselberry, Florida, told CNN affiliate WFTV. "The next thing I know, it bit my foot and then it bit my leg. And then while it was biting my leg, I was trying to push him away by his month, and I had my thumb in his mouth."
The site of Saturday's shark attack was shut down for about an hour after the incident happened.
Meanwhile, officials continued to monitor the nearby surf for a cluster of sharks common in these waters rich in bait fish.
Ben Gibbs says a shark nipped him on the thigh and foot.
A helicopter survey of the area Saturday did not show as many sharks as Friday when a mixed group of 50 to 60 sharks were spotted near the surface, according to Volusia County Beach Patrol Deputy Chief Mike Hensler.
A ban on water activities along the one-mile stretch of New Smyrna Beach, some said, was the only thing keeping them out of the ocean.
"If they weren't going to kick us out then and then they said, 'Swim at your own risk,' then definitely -- yeah -- I would," said Joey Pringle.
To keep people out of the water, officials have hired additional beach personnel -- each with the authority to arrest anyone who defies the ban.
Authorities are also targeting people fishing for sharks along shoreline rocks and jetties -- an illegal practice, beach patrol said, which draws sharks closer to shore.
Volusia County Beach Patrol officials said despite the restricted area in New Smyrna Beach -- from the Ponce de Leon inlet jetty south one mile -- surfers and swimmers still have plenty of options.
"It's a very popular area, specific to surfers," Hensler said of the closed beach. "We still have 46 miles of beach the public can use in Volusia County. It's just a small strip that's closed to swimming."
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