Stab Magazine | Reunion Island Is Fucked Up

Reunion Island Is Fucked Up

Reporting by Craig Jarvis A 24-year-old bodysurfer is fighting for his life after his right leg was severed by a shark in Reunion island, 20 metres from shore. The attack happened at Etang Sale, a popular surf spot down the coast from St Leu, Reunion’s most famous wave, and former venue for a Rip Curl […]

Words by stab

Reporting by Craig Jarvis

A 24-year-old bodysurfer is fighting for his life after his right leg was severed by a shark in Reunion island, 20 metres from shore. The attack happened at Etang Sale, a popular surf spot down the coast from St Leu, Reunion’s most famous wave, and former venue for a Rip Curl Search event, which was won by Mick Fanning in 2005.

“The guy was bodysurfing 20 metres from the beach,” says Reunion Island surf shop owner, Davey Stolk. “He lost his leg and a few fingers, right in front of his mom. The situation here is such a fuck-up. We’ve been feeling the effects for two years now. It has of course adversely affected local economy. In St Gilles and Boucon the hotels are empty, the restaurants are empty or shut, surf schools are closed, surf shops are closed. After this attack it’s going to happen at Etang Sale and before long at St Leu. The local economy is slowly dying.”

Yet according to Stolk, little is being done about it. “The authorities have not taken responsibility whatsoever. No one is prepared to take responsibility, and everyone is looking after him or herself, while people are getting killed.”

Surfing has been banned in Reunion due to the increasing number of sharks, which have claimed five lives since 2011. In May, 36-year old surfer Stephane Berhamel was killed while on honeymoon, and 15-year-old swimmer Sarah Roperth was killed in mid July this year.

The attack on Sarah was the catalyst for the surfing ban as well as authorise a 90-shark cull, that has been ongoing since the attack. The ban on surfing, in place until next year, is having little effect on the surfers. “Listen, if the surfers are prepared to risk their lives with the very real threat of a shark attack, they’re not going to be too worried about the authorities and a little fine,” reckons Stolk. “The police were patrolling at one stage in a boat and chasing guys out of the water, but they soon grew tired of that. We have had up to 20 guys out at St Leu, which is pretty busy. This morning was obviously a bit quieter…”

It’s suspected that the increase in shark activity on Reunion is a direct result of the 19km natural reserve in place on the west coast, where it’s illegal to fish, spear fish or ride a jetski. It’s believed that the sharks are coming in closer because there’s plentiful fish. There’s also the fish farming on the west coast, which some experts think might be attracting more of the predators.

What is going to happen? According to Stolk, the Mayor of St Pierre (that glorious righthander that Jordy and Julian use to perfect their forehand airs) is the only person that has a plan. “Apparently the mayor of St Pierre is looking at setting up an anti-shark device that can cover the whole beach,” said Stolk. “There is technology available where a whole beach can be controlled with large-scale anti-shark devices.”

An anti shark device generally creates an electric field. Sharks have gel-filled sacs called Ampullae of Lorenzini which they use to sense electrical fields given off by prey. When a shark senses the electric field caused by an anti-shark device, the severe discomfort is supposed to cause the shark to swim away. So if a big enough system were to be placed across a beach, the whole beach could be protected by the electric field. In theory.

In Reunion there are also some very angry citizens. About twenty people, members of the association known as ‘Protect Our Children”, gathered on Sunday 27 October, 11am, at the hospital of Saint -Pierre, where the victim is being treated, for three minutes silence.

“Our patience is exhausted. We want the authorities to act, to protect our children,” said Hervé Flament, president of the association.

Reading a speech, Hervé Flament stated that it is the “ninth attack in two and a half years,” and asked, “How many deaths will it take for the state to take responsibility and act? Yesterday it was the surfers, then the swimmers. Tomorrow, if it continues like this, it will be divers, and then our children, in the lagoons.” Flament then urged the state to implement “concrete measures.”

[One such measure has come to light. While not from the local authorities, Shark Shield is now offering a discount of their products to Reunion surfers.]

So, do we kill the sharks, reset the balance and make the sea safe for our children again, or do we keep the moratorium on shark hunting in place, and continue idly watching as these beasts savagely take more people?

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