Reunion Island Bans Surfing

In response to recent attacks, Reunion Island shuts down its lineups and plans to cull 90 sharks

Government officials on Reunion Island have banned surfing outside of the island's lagoon to help stem shark attacks, leaving the lineups of St. Leu conspicuously empty. Photo: Joli

In response to a surge in shark attacks, government officials in Reunion Island have banned surfing outside of the island’s lagoons until October 1 of this year. Anyone caught surfing outside of the lagoon will face a $50 fine. Additionally, they plan to cull 90 sharks—45 tiger sharks and 45 bull sharks—from the island’s waters to help combat the attacks.

“I think it’s stupid. I’m shocked they banned surfing in the area,” said Damien Ferrere, 16, who lives in the south of Reunion. “If we want to surf, we risk 38€ and possible prison time. If I want to surf, I will.”

The government of the island released the following three-point 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.”

The 90 sharks that will be killed will be done so under the veil of the island’s ciguatera program. It should be noted that only tiger sharks and bull sharks—the two species most commonly associated with attacks on the island—will be killed.

Over the past six years, the French territorial island has suffered an onslaught of attacks, with two fatalities in the past three months alone. The most recent attack occurred when a young woman was killed just yards from the shore while she snorkeled with a friend.

The island’s residents have been divided on whether or not the government should implement a culling program to trim the number of sharks in the area. Following a fatal attack of a popular local surfer in August of last year, 300 surfers demonstrated outside of the local police department demanding that the shark population in the area be culled. Others aren’t sure that a shark cull is the answer to the problem. Reunion Island is home to a marine reserve where fishing is limited. Some surfers on the island believe that this reserve, which was enacted six years ago, has allowed the number of sharks in the area to overpopulate, leading to the rise in attacks.

“I don’t think that killing 90 sharks is going to solve the problem. It’s a lot more complicated than that. I believe they need to let more fisherman into the marine reserve to cut the shark’s supply of fish,” added Ferrere. “I think they need to balance out the whole ecosystem; you can’t just kill 90 sharks and expect that to work.”

This was not the first time the government on Reunion Island has issued a cull for sharks. In August of last year, in the wake of three deadly attacks in a single year, the government opted to cull 20 sharks in the marine reserve.