I’m not talking about loan sharks but shark sharks. Reunion, a French overseas department, had a growing tourist industry; it was becoming a surfer’s Mecca, until the sharks came. For years there were no shark attacks on the island. Everything changed in 2011. That year there were six shark attacks. Since then there have been 20 attacks 8 fatal. In one a 15 year old girl was killed just 5 meters (16 feet) from the shore. Now the main beach at St Giles is closed, big permanent looking shark warnings are posted along a beach where people sunbathe but do not go in the water.
Everyone is blaming everyone. Some locals blame a ban on the sale of shark meat passed in the 1990s and the creation a marine reserve off the west coast of the island in 2007. Others blame overfishing of species that sharks like to eat, causing the sharks to come closer to the shore to feed. They also blame urban development which causes more rapid runoff into the sea creating the murky waters along the coastline that bull sharks love to feed in. In the meantime Indian Ocean neighbor Mauritius is getting more tourist business and Reunion less. Reunion now has one of the highest unemployment rates in France.
We are not surfers. A 15 minute drive away from St. Giles there’s a lagoon behind a coral reef where visitors can still swim. It’s a small area and on weekends we are told it is really crowded. But this was a Tuesday. It was not so bad. The area is protected area and beautiful, no murky waters here. The water is clear and the outcroppings of coral several meters from the shoreline are home of lots of colorful fish. It is a great swim with the fish. Suzi and I had fun with our underwater cameras.