Sharks and surfers vie for control of the waters of Reunion | AFP

Sharks and surfers vie for control of the waters of Reunion | AFP


No one expected the island of Réunion to
regain its reputation as a surfing and bodyboarding paradise. But wave cravers
are once again practicing their sports in the once forbidden waters of the so
called “Shark Island”. “Really it’s a relief being able to enjoy the ocean a bit
thanks to the lookouts and surf in safety. At least you’re not thinking about
the sharks.” But in this French territory located in the Indian Ocean,
sharks have often been a major concern. Twenty-three attacks have been reported
since 2011, eleven of which were fatal. In response, the island’s surfing federation
created a shark lookout system. It involves underwater cameras, a drone,
seven shark spotting divers and two boats. In total it’s a team of 20 people
working five days a week to secure the surfing area, and it works. We had three alerts last year. There was
one suspected shark attack because there was commotion underwater and apparent
hunting so we warned the surfers and evacuated the spot. And the other two
times it was an actual shark, a bull shark which was outside the safety zone
about 10 meters away. So we sounded the alarm and the surfers were out in five
minutes. There have been no shark attacks on
humans in any location that the system has been operating in since it began in 2015.
But some free-spirited surfers have found the rigid schedules and
registration requirements too restrictive. At locations including
Trois-Bassins, people are increasingly opting to practice free surfing on
unsupervised waves. They have rules of their own for staying safe. I go in when the water is clear and there are
small waves. I abide by these rules.
Passion overcomes all obstacles so I keep surfing. But the risks are very real. Prompting some surfers to turn to technology.
Devices like this one create an electromagnetic field to repel sharks. “It’s reassuring when there’s a lot of
people using it we think that maybe it creates a wide field around us that
keeps the sharks away.” Scientists are struggling to explain the dramatic increase in shark sightings on Reunion. Until they do, the surfers of this
tropical paradise have taken matters into their own hands.

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