Look at that water. Warm as y'like, but swarming with shit that wants to chew you. Will Reunion's latest initiative create a safe surfing environment? Jordy Smith, who did some game-changing surfing there during Modern Collective filming (and some since), certainly hopes so.
Reunion Island surfers will guinea pig shark-prevention!
Words by Craig Jarvis | All photos Red Bull Content Pool/ Ryan Miller/Redbull.com.surfing
February 14, 2015: A 20-year-old girl was swimming in shallow waters off Reunion Island when she was attacked by a shark. She died from her injuries, making it the most recent of 14 attacks on the island since February 2011, and the sixth fatal attack in that period.
Swimming and surfing is officially banned in Reunion Island waters until February 2016. But, local surfers may return to the water soon as part of a very large government experiment, the first of its kind, which’ll hopefully keep sharks at bay while they surf. I know, right? Read on.
There’s a council called the Reunion Shark Risk Reduction Committee, and they, together with the Reunion Prefect (a State Representative) and the Reunion Region President, have decided to make "2015 a year of transition, with the gradual recovery of activities that are currently under shark risk." Read: They want surfing and swimming to be safe, and cool again.
“The object of the experiment is to evaluate the relevance of different risk reduction devices,” said the Prefect, Dominique Sorain.
The ‘high surf ‘areas that have been targeted as experimental areas are the communes of Saint Paul, Saint Leu and Saint Pierre.
The local municipalities will test protection devices in certain geos. There’s talk of shark nets, drumlines, fishing lines specifically baited for shark capture, shark spotters, shark vigilantes (guys in the water with spear guns), electrical barriers, acoustic monitoring and boats in the water. Like surfing's very own Fort Knox, with a range of 300 meters.
At this stage the experiments are going to be strictly controlled, and will be for the benefit of surfers from the local clubs, who'll be able to train for upcoming surf events. In other words, surfers will be used as guinea pigs, but they’re thrilled because they’re going surfing, and they’ll have every kind of protection.
Local surfer, businessman, and Stab’s Reunion go-to man Davey Stolk is cautiously upbeat. “With the news of the plans to protect the surf spots of Reunion, most of the surfers that I know and others in the surf and tourist industry are optimistically cautious that maybe at last we can put behind us what can best be described as a living nightmare that we have endured for the past three years,“ says Davey.
“It’s totally dependent on what methods are employed, as this will determine the level of security obtainable,” he added. “Drum lines have, to a limited extent, been proven reliable, but the jury is still completely out when it comes to the efficiency of the other methods that have been thus far mooted, like the shark vigilantes, and the proposed electrical barriers.”
Unsurprisingly, Reunion Island has seen a steady decline in general tourism as well as the obvious surf tourism over the last three years. The sensationalised horror story of the 15-year-old girl who was mutilated in shallow water made mainstream press the world over. Subsequently, surf shops have closed down, surf schools no longer exist, and hotels and other accommodations that catered for traveling surfers have all but ceased to exist. In three years a booming surf industry has come to a grinding halt.
The goal is to eventually work out the best methods of safety and of keeping the sharks out, and making Reunion Island a surfing destination as well as a popular tourist destination, as it was in the past. So confident is everyone that the experiment is going to work that there’s already a surf contest booked for 2017 at St. Leu.
The budget that’s been government-approved and put aside for the experimental exercise is Euro 10 000 000 (AU$14Mil). Let’s hope that sort of spend sees some results.