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We Went to the Island of the Sharks: Part 1

Reunion Island is basically paradise. But as we learned, every paradise has a boogeyman. Here, it's sharks.

by Motherboard Staff
Jun 20 2016, 2:00pm

Reunion Island is a tiny French territory in the middle of the Indian Ocean, several hundred miles east of Madagascar. It's a volcanic island that's home to world class waves, endless beaches and a rich, natural heritage. It's basically paradise. But as we learned, every paradise has a boogeyman. Here, it's sharks.

Since 2011, the island has seen a spike in shark attacks, several of which have been fatal. And lately the concentration and frequency of attacks has everyone puzzled.

Locals have called the increase in attacks a crisis, which has received headlines around the world. Eighteen people have been attacked and 7 have been killed, all in the last five years.

That means that from 2011 to 2015, 13 percent of all the world's fatal shark attacks have taken place around this tiny, 40-mile-long stretch of beach, which is roughly the same length as Manhattan's shoreline.

Meanwhile, humans kill somewhere between 63 and 273 million sharks per year worldwide, and declining shark populations are destabilizing ocean ecosystems around the globe.

Reunion thus presents a crucial question about shark conservation: The island has banned the commercial sale of all shark meat for more than a decade, which essentially killed commercial fishing. It is also now home to a new natural reserve aimed at protecting critical marine life. But as shark attacks have increased, many of the island's residents have begun to question the value of having any sharks at all.

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