Reunion Island Bans Surfing!

Recent Shark Attacks Prompt Culling of 90 Sharks and a Ban on Water Sports

A jewel in th emiddle of the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island's world class waves have drawn surfers to it's shores for decades.
A jewel in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island’s world class waves have drawn surfers to it’s shores for decades. Photo by Ewing.

In a bizarre and destructive move, the Reunion Island Government has banned surfing, swimming, and bodyboarding until October 1st, 2013 due to a string of fatal shark attacks. Anyone caught surfing outside of protected lagoons will face a $50 fine. In addition, they plan to cull 90 sharks from the area to help stem the surge of attacks.

St. Leu, Reunion Island. One of the world's best left pointbreaks.
St. Leu, Reunion Island. One of the world’s best left pointbreaks. Photo by Tom Carey.

Locals are divide about their government’s decision. Most claim that culling 90 sharks will not solve the problem, and that the whole ecosystem needs to be balanced after an island-wide Marine Reserve was declared years ago. The reserve has attracted Tiger and Bull Sharks to the area searching for abundant fish supplies in the protected region. Others demanded action after the death of a very popular surfer last August, which resulted in the culling of 20 sharks.

Some locals demanded a cull of sharks last August, while others say a cull won't fix the problem.
Some locals demanded a cull of sharks last August (pictured here), while others say a cull won’t fix the problem.

The government of the island released the following plan to deal with the attacks:

“An immediate prohibition of swimming, surfing and bodyboarding within the coastal strip of 300 meters from shore in the department of Reunion until October 1st, 2013. These activities are only allowed within the shallow ‘lagoon’ and supervised areas as determined by the Prefecture. Beachgoers who do not comply with the restrictions will be subject to a fine of 38 Euros ($50 U.S. dollars).

“A total of 90 sharks should be ‘taken’ as part of the scientific ciguatera program to assess the marketing objectives of sharks in Reunion Island.

“A new website, dedicated to inform the public about the shark risk in Reunion Island, will be established in October 2013.”

Suspect #1 - The Bull Shark.
Suspect #1 – The Bull Shark. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.
Suspect #2 - The Tiger Shark.
Suspect #2 – The Tiger Shark. Photo courtesy Barcroft media.

While Reunion Island has been a worldwide leader in shark attacks for decades, there have been an extraordinary number of attacks in the last six years. Recently, a French surfer was killed while on his honeymoon, and a young woman was killed just yards from shore while snorkeling with a friend.

A French surfer killed on his honeymoon recently being taken off the beach in Reunion Island.
A French surfer recently killed on his honeymoon being taken off the beach in Reunion Island.

In reality, the culling is just a knee-jerk reaction to a much larger issue. Since the waters outside of Reunion Island’s territory are not protected, there has been a massive decline in fish populations in the Indian Ocean due to overfishing by other Asian countries. This has caused the aggressive Tiger and Bull Sharks to hunt in the protected Marine Reserve and actually kill most of the less aggressive Black and White Tip Sharks on the island. The spike in shark attacks coincides perfectly with the date that the Marine Reserve was implemented.

Hoepfully surfers will be able to enjoy the waves that Reunion Island has to offer very soon.
Hopefully surfers will be able to enjoy the waves that Reunion Island has to offer very soon.

Culling 90 sharks will most likely not have the effect that officials are looking for. But instead is a measure to appease the tourism industry on the tiny island. Only time will tell what happens to the sharks, and to surfing, on Reunion Island.

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