‘Shark Island’: Reunion Searches For Ways To Separate Sharks And Surfers

Reunion Island possesses one of the most dangerous coastlines in the world, and now Discovery’s Shark Week is examining the efforts of local authorities to keep sharks and surfers separated following years of high-profile attacks.

A stunning number of shark incidents have transpired in just a very short time off Reunion Island, as Yahoo News points out. Over the last four years alone, 17 shark attacks have been recorded at the Indian Ocean island, seven of which have resulted in fatalities. Due to the unusually high incidence of shark attacks, surfing has actually been banned on the majority of Reunion’s beaches, a harsh blow to a local economy that caters to surfers and beachgoers.

A group of shark watchers patrol the beaches on Reunion so that surfers can spend a few hours in the water, but the unusual number of attacks have led to strong public support for culling the predators. Earlier this year, 13-year-old surfer Elio Canestri was killed after he went into the water without the watchers, falling victim to a shark attack, as the Inquisitr previously reported. His death caused tensions on Reunion to mount even further, with graffiti around the island calling for the sharks to be killed.

Discovery’s special, Shark Island, examines not only the situation on Reunion, but also the efforts of Dr. Craig O’Connell to employ a technology known as the Sharksafe Barrier in order to protect surfers from the predators. It involves an artificial kelp forest, filled with magnets, which deter the sharks in several ways. Great white sharks near Gansbaai, for example, have been known to avoid kelp forests, even without the use of magnetic fields.

Research on the Sharksafe system started roughly a decade ago, as O’Connell told Surfline, and he was involved with it.

“I did some of the very preliminary work, where I wanted to see if one of the components of the barrier, the magnets, could in fact deter sharks. So I tested it on a wide range of species — bull sharks, tiger sharks, great whites, hammerheads — and it was very, very successful. Then about six years ago, I traveled to South Africa and teamed up with a local university and we came up with the Sharksafe system, and we’ve been testing it for over six years now and it’s been extraordinarily effective.”

O’Connell has spoken to the island’s government about possibly employing the Sharksafe Barrier, which is currently undergoing final exclusion trials in South Africa. There, they have been successful at deterring great white sharks, showing great promise for possible implementation off other coastlines like those at Reunion Island.

[Image via Twitter]