We Went to the Island of the Sharks: Part 2

Reunion Island residents are taking shark research and attack-prevention measures into their own hands, an attempt at a more symbiotic relationship.
June 22, 2016, 5:00pm
Photo: Motherboard

Catch Part 1 here.

The escalation of shark attacks on Reunion Island, a small French territory off the coast of Madagascar, has left a community in crisis.

With 13 percent of the world's deadly shark attacks having occurred between 2011 and 2015 on Reunion's 40 miles of otherwise idyllic coastline, residents of the island turned to science to better understand the shark's behavior, searching for solutions that would protect their loved ones and a tourism industry that is vital to the local economy. In many ways, the island has become a sort of experimental research lab, with scientists working on a set of entirely novel techniques and solutions to the mounting problem of increased shark and human interactions.

From 2011 to 2014, scientists would catch and tag sharks, releasing them to monitor their feeding, migration, and reproduction. While the results of the study provided valuable insight, they did little to curb the attacks on the island, provoking the ire of residents who had grown increasingly frustrated with the situation. These mounting frustrations forced the local government to adjust the program for a more radical approach, mandating the killing of larger sharks that could be perceived as an inherent threat to public safety.

The systematic fishing and killing of these animals and the controversy that accompanied that approach encouraged the community to look at new ways to both protect themselves and the sharks—an attempt at a more symbiotic relationship. Residents have started to take measures into their own hands, implementing low-tech solutions like nets protecting large swaths of the beach, to more high-tech solutions, such as electronic pulse-emitting devices designed to cause discomfort to sharks that otherwise would come too close.

With this multi-faceted research effort providing a better understanding of shark habits, plus myriad non-violent preventative measures, residents of Reunion Island hope for a future in which humans and sharks can peacefully co-exist.

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