This portfolio reflects a photostory about a small island in the Indian Ocean and its struggle with a human-wildlife conflict; the Crise Requin (aka shark crisis). It is about the demise of the tourism industry on Reunion Island and the fear and anger involved with loosing the ocean as a playground. It is a story about the loss of lives of young (and very passionate) people recreating in the ocean, but also about the loss of many sharks on drumlines which dot the coastal waters of the Reunion westcoast. Finally it is about a special group of people, the Vigies Requin.
The Vigies are the freediving shark watchers of Reunion Island that secure the surfers of the Reunion Surfers League during their trainings. To me the introduction of the Vigies is more than just an attempt to continue the surf training of top surfing talents on Reunion. The Vigies help make surfers aware of how important it is to understand and assess the conditions in which we recreate in the sea. Amongst others natural factors like visibility, prey abundance, amount of rainwater runoff into the sea, water temperature and wave action all play a role in the likelyhood of shark incidents worldwide. As the vigies are not deployed during low visibility situations this sends a signal to surfers. Sadly these important pointers are sometimes taken too lightly. Some surfers still take too much risk in practicing their sport on Reunion's waves.
By now the locals on Reunion are very much aware of the fact that surfing their coastline is not a walk in the park. They try to protect themselves with products like SurfSafe and ESDS (Electronic Shark Defense System). Others use dive goggles to monitor sea conditions during their surf sessions. Reunion is trying to manage the risk involved in the best possible way. Sadly, some of the methods, like culling the sharks, are more destructive and effective than others. Moreover, most surfers I spoke to even do not believe the culling will solve the shark issue, since the last shark will never be caught..
Working on the images of the story I came across a variety of different viewpoints and key issues in the crise requin. Approaches to most beaches would be decorated with warning signs mentioning the danger of sharks and prohibitions to access the sea. At other spots on the island memorials were created for the people lost due to shark incidents. Art and graffity on the walls in the streets showed the pain of loss and the anger because of slow decision making in mitigating the "Crise Requin". In a sense part of the anger is justifiable as the current state of the ecosystem close to shore is partly the responsibility of Reunion's current (and past) community leaders.
We only did not come across one thing. That was the sharks themselves...
The debate on the causes of the Crise Requin on Reunion Island is a difficult one. The most accurate way of putting it would be that nobody knows exactly why the attacks happen more often.
People that said they knew the exact reason seemed to be stating wrong explanations or only telling part of the truth. There are however many reasons that I have heard regularly and some of them make more sense than others.
The elimination of the larger sharks on drumlines (mostly bull and tiger sharks, but recently even a Great White shark) is a controversial method that is met with increasing resistance. Resistance is growing due to its tendency to create unwanted bycatch and the already unsustainable levels of overfishing on shark species worldwide. Also, many people state that the drumlines with bait actually bring in sharks from a distance and therefore actually increase the risk of interactions with sharks.
On top of that removing the sharks from the ocean is also negatively affecting shark populations regionally. The sharks from Reunion Island have been tracked to the Southern African coastline were a vibrant shark tourism industry is present. Needless to say shark operators on the African continent are not pleased with the fact that the sharks they make their profit from are killed elsewhere.
Finally, biologists and scientists indicate that these sharks play a vital role in the marine ecosystem around Reunion and taking them out could well make matters worse..
Please also find the following blogpost on the Crise Requin.