A Small Island With a Big Shark Problem

Between 2011 and 2015, this small island suffered 13% of the world's fatal shark attacks.
June 24, 2016, 4:54pm

Statistically, the odds of a shark attack ruining your otherwise tranquil beach holiday are very low. If your vacation destination is the remote Reunion Island located in the Indian Ocean, that risk of an unpleasant interaction with one of nature's fiercest apex predators is considerably higher.

Between 2011 and 2015, this small French territory several hundred miles off the coast of Madagascar suffered 18 attacks, 7 of which were fatal–a staggering 13 percent of all of the world's shark attack fatalities.

Residents of the island have turned to science to better understand the surge in attacks, searching for solutions that would protect their loved ones and a tourism industry that is vital to the local economy. The island has become something akin to an experimental research lab, with scientists searching for insight into the shark's behavior, and residents searching for ways to protect themselves in the water.

While scientific research on the island has provided valuable insight, several low-tech protective measures have been most effective in getting residents and tourists back into the water with some semblance of safety. Protective nets provide safe harbor for swimmers, and "vigies", volunteer underwater bodyguards, serve as lookouts for surfers, allowing them to take advantage of the island's world class waves.

Reunion Island stands as a fascinating case study of man's intersection with nature. As researchers better understand the habits of these animals, and residents continue to implement non-violent preventative measures, there's hope for a peaceful co-existence between humans and sharks.

Presented by The Shallows. In Theaters June 24.