Reunion Island plans to kill 90 sharks for Science

reunion1How Reunion Island tries to deal with the Shark Danger

Helmut Nickel, Shark Year Magazine,
29. July 2013

At about 02.15 pm in the afternoon of July 15, a young tourist was killed in a shark attack in Reunion Island.

The tragic incident occurred in the waters of the bay of Saint-Paul, which is located on the extreme west side of the island.

The victim is 15-year-old Sarah Roperth who was swimming just a few metres from shore, reportedly wearing a mask with snorkel and accompanied by another girl when the shark attacked.

It’s the third shark incident and second fatality in Reunion Island this year.

Last May, a 36-year-old man was fatally mauled by a shark while surfing off the popular beach of Brisants de Saint-Gilles.

Another Reunion surfer had his own personal shark encounter in late April. He managed to escape unhurt back to shore. But the predator hit so hard that the surfboard was visibly damaged.

Shortly after the death of the teenager on July 15, professional fishermen were mandated by the Prefecture to fish for sharks in the close vicinity where the attack had occurred in Saint-Paul Bay.

They caught three large specimens :

–  a female bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas ), 3.15 metres in length.
–  a male bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas ), 2.70 metres in length.
–  a female (other sources: male) tiger shark ( Galeocerdo cuvier ), 3.50 metres in length.

The two bull sharks were caught in the night of July 17 and the tiger shark in the early morning hours of the next day. None of the three specimens had human remains in its stomach.

Prefect reveals new Action Plan to combat the danger of Shark Attack :

During a press conference on July 26, the prefect Jean-Luc Marx presented a new action plan to deal with the risk of shark bite incidents in the waters of Reunion Island.

 The three key elements of the new measures are as follows :

  1. An immediate prohibition of swimming, surfing and bodyboarding within the coastal strip of 300 metres 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 ,- Euro ( ca. 50 US-Dollar ).
  2. A total of 90 sharks ( 45 bull and 45 tiger shark ) should be ‘taken’ as part of the scientific Ciguatera-Program to assess the marketing objectives of sharks in Reunion Island. More information on this program is provided below.
  3. A new website, dedicated to inform the public about the shark risk in Reunion Island, will be established in October 2013.

The Background of Reunion’s Ciguatera-Program :

In August 2012, the authorities of Reunion Island have launched a shark fishing program for scientific purposes as part of the shark risk management, along with a satellite-tagging program.

The purpose of the fishing program is a new evaluation of Reunion’s food safety policy.

Because a current law prohibits the sale of most shark meat on the local market. This includes all shark species of the family Carcharhinidae (Requim sharks like tiger and bull sharks), Sphyrnidae (hammerhead sharks) and Hexanchidae (sixgill sharks). The law also affects the marketing of several bony fish species, belonging to about a dozen of taxonomic families.

The related prefectural decree came into effect in December 2009 in order to protect the people of Reunion Island from inadvertently consuming biotoxins that may be present in this variety of fish. The main concern is ciguatoxin that causes a food poisoning called Ciguatera.

Last year, professional fishermen have been ordered to ‘sample’ up to 20 bull and tiger sharks in the waters of the island’s west coast. This means that 10 specimens of each species should be killed and later examined by scientists.

Licensed veterinarians should conduct tests for marine toxins and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and selenium. Specimens of four bony fish species should also be tested in the framework of this study.

So, the following two elasmobranch and four teleost fishes are in the focus of the scientific survey :

–  Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), 10 specimens
–  Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 10 specimens
–  Two-spot red snapper (Lutjanus bohar)
–  Giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis)
–  Yellow-edged lyretail (Variola louti)
–  Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Later the number has been slightly increased to a total of 24 sharks. This quota was reached with the catch of the male bull shark on July 18, which is mentioned above.

Now, after the latest shark attack fatality, the Prefect has announced that an additional number of 90 bull and tiger sharks ( 45 specimens of each species ) should be caught and examined as a second sampling phase of the Ciguatera-Program.

Conservationists have condemned the Ciguatera-Fishing Campaign from the beginning of course, and they are concerned about the drastic increase of the shark quota for its forthcoming second leg. They consider the fishing program as a hidden shark-cull under the cover of science. And indeed, it is kind of suspicious that the Ciguatera Survey includes only the two potentially ‘dangerous’ shark species and that the fishing is mainly restricted to an area where most of the bite incidents occurred.




  1. Los Roques

    For real? Who was the mastermind behind this elaborate subterfuge scheme that surreptitiously sanctions the culling of sharks all under the guise of science? The epitome of an evil genius if you ask me. The ordinary mere mortal would have never deduced that there could be a nexus between recent shark attacks and culling sharks for “science”….lol!! The authorities should just man up and a call it what it is. Funny stuff.

    • Leslie Ann

      I agree, this is horrific! Surf some place else! Sharks are being killed at an alarming rate world-wide, now we are going to slaughter even more of them so some douche bags can surf! WTF!!!!

  2. Laurie

    Totally agree. It’s a joke. Though the loss of life to any animal attack is tragic, people need to assume responsibility and risk for entering the water. The answer is not to strike back at the animal who belongs there. But man will, as man so often does. Very sad.

    • jill

      What a bunch of rocket scientists! Common sense (or lack of in this case) should warrent that if you choose to go in the water with the (big) fishes, you may get bit. Let those who choose to go in the water take their chances. They should know by now the risks they are taking by entering the environment of an apex predator. Just because 90 sharks have been “culled” does not mean that there are not others to take their place. What a shame that in this day and age certain individuals still regard these magnificent creatures as monsters that need to be destroyed. Maybe we are the monsters who are preying on a species that is only doing what nature intended – trying to survive.

      • Jimbo

        Since we are the apex predator of the world, your logic leads to the inevitable conclusion that we have the perfect right to kill ANY competing predator – including your beloved sharks!

        • Competing predator? If man belonged in the water, sharks would be his competitors. Since he doesn’t, he has no rights in the water, no rights to do as he pleases. Man is a guest in the water. Everything done there– surfing, swimming, fishing, waterskiing, sailing are pastimes for enjoyment. Pastimes that include risk, which are taken for granted. Assume risk and responsiblity when you enter a predator’s world, instead of striking back when something bad happens and invariably will happen.

  3. robert salerno

    I have fished for sharks ,I realize how stupid it is. Why does science need 90 sharks to figure out that they should not have killed them. Test the scientist for murcury

  4. Ava

    It has nothing to do with striking back and everything to do with trying to keep the waters safe. I wonder….if someone you love is killed by a shark..will you still feel the same way? Somehow i doubt it!!

    • Zoysia

      Ava….but let’s apply this type of logic to motor vehicle accidents, which invariably is the result of cars running into each other, and they claim more lives than shark attacks. Should we curtail the number of cars out on the roads to reduce the risk of cars running into each other, or should we apply logic and accept that with certain activities come certain risks? Living is dangerous! Live free or die but don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead of a shark cull, they should focus on the man made negative environmental impact that created the shark problem in Reunion…..and Recife and Second Beach for that matter. It’s not happenstance that there are three spots in the world with a disproportionate number of shark attacks.

    • Laurie

      Ava, we think nothing of surfing, boating, fishing, diving and we do it everyday without a second thought. But the water is a dangerous place. As Zoysia so beautifully put it, there is risk in everything we do, in everyday living. In these water activities that we take for granted. The waters will never be “safe.” Lifeguards and beach officials do what they can to make our beaches “safe” but the fact is, it’s the sharks home, not ours. They have every right to be there. In my mind, we don’t. We’re incringing on them, not the other way around.

  5. Angel

    Be a man !
    Stand up and say that you want to kill sharks. Don’t hide behind science or anything.
    If you are afraid to do it, just don’t do it.
    People expect you to find solutions to the problem and everyone knows on earth that killings some sharks will not solve it. You fished and killed sharks around the island for over 100 years. And still you think the solution is killing the sharks.
    Find out why these sharks attack ? What the hell did you change in the environment that brought the sharks to shore ?   

    • While some of these surfers asked for a culling at one time in general surfers accept the risk of shark attack when surfing. The surfing community on a whole is very pro active and ecologically responsible.

  6. There is a price to pay for ignorance and for those that think we are the apex creature must realise that responsibility comes with that position knowledge is the way forward when we study the shark attacks on people we learn why this happens and  almost every time it’s caused through assumption that we was something els or peoples intervention like fishing and confusing there feeding program .as a diver I learned about the dangers of the water like currents and sea urchins this reduces risk of injury sharks  are necessary for our evolution so we must learn to live with them but I am afraid we struggle to live with our selfs and our own species I will not hesitate to explore anywhere but I will do my due diligence  first  keep safe people

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