There are many things that don't sit right about the shark attack in Reunion Island on August 27.
Firstly, right there – evening? It’s not the ideal time to go surfing anywhere in the world where there is a trace of shark activity. “I have no idea why the guys were out after five,” said South African transplant and Reunion Island surfshop owner Davey Stolk, adding “I’d never be out at that time. It is such a terrible thing. There has not been an attack on the island for one year and one month, and everyone honestly thought that we were on the road to a better place.”
The surfer, 21-year-old Laurent Chardard, was on holiday from his studies from France, and not a local surfer. He was just visiting. The situation was complicated in that there are two beaches in Reunion that now have nets, are monitored, and are considered the safe and recognised beaches to surf, being Boucon Canot and St Gilles. Both beaches are sites of former attacks.
This attack happened at Boucon. “In the morning there was a two meter hole in the nets, so the beach was closed and deemed unsafe to surf, yet the guys still went out,” said Davey.
“It must be said though, that there was a solid swell going down, like ten foot plus at St Leu, so Boucon must have been six foot. It’s probably the swell that damaged the nets. I heard that the waves were breaking outside of the nets and the lifeguards were calling the surfers in all day apparently,” said Davey. “Why they were still surfing I have no idea.”
Still, despite all this, the tragedy is that the surfer lost an arm and a foot, and the surfers and authorities are totally rattled again.
On Friday, the day before the attack, I happened to be chatting to Stolk, who was extremely upbeat about life.
Something really serious is upHe had just surfed 6 foot perfect St Leu, the surf industry in Reunion was about to kick off again with a second coming as a number of brands were set to embark on re-launch campaigns, the two surf beaches mentioned earlier seemed safe to surf, and over a year had gone by without an attack. “I was so upbeat,” said Stolk. “It felt like there was serious progress going down, and now this. It’s an ongoing nightmare. Still, I guess I’m getting used to it.”
It is a very confusing and complex situation they have in Reunion. “With that many attacks over that period of time over that short space of coastline? Something really serious is up,” said Stolk. “Authorities are once again looking at calling a total ban on surfing, threatening to confiscate surfboards, and handing out serious fines and so forth. It’s not really going to help. You know this. You’re a surfer.”
Stolk has been on the island throughout the entire scourge of shark attack’s and has witnessed the media hype, the sensationalism, some narrow-minded politicians, and the people who are trying their hardest to protect the surfers and to make the island safe again. He has witnessed the surf shops closing down, the surf schools cease to exits, and the once booming surf tourism dwindle to zero.
On his Facebook page Stolk called for calm in this current situation: “I appeal to EVERYONE concerned on all sides to keep cool heads and to work together to find INCLUSIVE DURABLE solutions which take into consideration EVERYONE'S point of view. We will seriously not advance just shooting each other in the foot.”
Long gone are the days of professional surfing coming to the island like in 2005, when the event was actually won by the shark-puncher himself Mick Fanning. Now it seems the wave rich zone around St Leu is teeming with bull sharks, the most dangerous of all sharks.
No one quite knows for certain why the sharks have arrived in such numbers, and so quickly. It possibly began with the creation of a marine reserve on the west coast in 2007 along a stretch where many of the prime waves are to be found. More sharks attracted by more fish. Others blame the increase on a 1999 ban on shark meat being sold. As a result, fishing for sharks has all but ended.
The reef sharks were apparently over fished as well with serious side affects, as they used to kill the bull shark pups, so now there are many more adult bull sharks. Either way, the shark numbers are out of whack and people are dying.
Patrick Flores, J-Flo’s old man has been championing the research and practical activities to try and find a solution, and this is going to be another heavy setback to his cause. Best wishes to Laurent.