Reunion Island shark update

Two new surf clips and a catch-up on the shark issue in Reunion.
The shark attack problem on Reunion Island and its ensuing controversies surrounding culling of the animals (plus surf bans) has gone quiet over this side of the world lately. As attacks, fatalities and controversy surrounding culling continued closer to home (we had four fatal shark attacks in Australia last year – two in NSW and one each in WA and SA), only one person was injured by a shark in Reunion last year (July), which probably explains why we haven’t heard much. But before that the island had endured more than a dozen attacks, including five fatalities, which led to the surf ban. In light of two new bodyboarding clips to come out of Reunion in the past week, we sent some questions to Frenchman Max “Chapo” Gateaud, who filled us in on the latest.

RIPTIDE: We haven’t really heard much about sharks there recently so it might be cool to let people know if there have been any developments. Is the surf ban still in place?
CHAPO: Yes, the ban is still in place, but we had many developments in 2014. First, surfers got involved in politics. In March 2014 two of them got elected in their own city council – Christophe Mulquin, former coach of Team Reunion, in St-Leu, and Patrick Flores, Jeremy’s [ASP World Tour surfer] father and former coach at the French Surf Federation, in St-Paul. Their goal is to secure [access to] the most famous spots in order to reintroduce nautical activities in our landscape. During this crisis riders have gathered in several associations like OPR and PRR to find the best solution to protect people in the water. They also try to fight the ecologists’ lobbying (who lied a lot about our situation) and that explains why it takes so long to apply any solutions (some of those ecologists were in St-Paul’s city council, but they got kicked out with the last elections). Finally their [surfers’] work has paid and we are now experimenting with smart drumlines and, if the results are good, authorities will deploy it at several spots! We also ran a big study on bull sharks and tiger sharks with the IRD (Institute for Research & Development) called CHARC. After three years of work scientists submitted their report to the authorities this past December. Conclusions will be published in February. We really hope for some positive changes this year!

How much is the ban enforced? Are there many bodyboarders still in the water? 
Since 2011 we went from thousands of people in the water to approximately 300 as I speak today. The ban’s enforced nearly every day, but police don’t really apply the law (i.e. you get a fine if you’re caught surfing). It’s difficult for them to put a cop behind every surfer :). Some of us are just too passionate to give up. The bodyboarding community is still alive and we ride with masks/goggles to check what’s up underwater and watch out for each other.

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Above: Bodyboarding in Reunion last month

Does it feel sketchy out in the water still/have there been many shark sightings? 
There has been some shark sightings on the West Coast and also on the East Coast on January 1 (https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=1522839264655441&fref=nf). There’s a sighting at least once a month. Let me tell you – if it feels sketchy out in the water you just paddle in or you don’t even go. We use our local knowledge and the conditions of the past shark attacks to determine if it will be safe to go or not. Here are some rules we follow:

– Never surf alone
– Watch out what’s going on underwater
– Avoid murky water and prefer crystal clear water
– Don’t surf after a storm or rainy days as all the shit from the ravines will flow straight to the ocean
– Avoid the late afternoon sesh
– Avoid the big swells because with the whitewash and the particles brewed in the ocean it makes underwater visibility reduced
– If you cut yourself on the reef and bleed, paddle in

Those ideal conditions are during our summer (November to April) and we usually surf less often during winter.

When was the most recent attack?
The last shark attack happened in July 2014 on a surfer at St-Leu’s infamous left, during a dark and cloudy afternoon. A juvenile tiger shark (with an estimated 6ft size) charged him, but fortunately he was only lightly injured on his arm and his leg.