A French territory in the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island is said to have beautiful waterfalls and some of the best rums in the world. The beaches are idyllic, the water warm — and it’s the #1 spot in the world for shark attacks, according to a new podcast.
“From 2011 to 2019 there was a terrible increase in the density of [bull] Sharks there,” Dan Duane, host of Reunion: Shark Attacks in Paradise, which explores Reunion Island and the bloody attacks that have turned it into a deadly travel destination. “The French call them bulldog sharks, but Pitbull is more appropriate. They hit and tear.
“Those are terrible things.”
Shark attacks are so rampant on the island that swimming and surfing are prohibited anywhere except in coral lagoons.
As for how many bull sharks there are on the island, Duane told The Post that estimates vary widely: “There are anywhere from 300 to 3,000.”
Eleven people have died and eight others have been maimed in shark attacks along the island’s 20-mile coastline since 2011. Despite everything, Reunion attracted a record-breaking 500,000 tourists in 2017.
“Within two months on this little strip of sand a guy [got] a leg bitten off, two guys [got] chewed up, another guy [got] his canoe was bitten in half,” Duane said. “And the same thing repeats itself year after year.”
Richard Martyn Turner, a 44-year-old Briton holidaying with his wife on Reunion Island in 2019, was attacked and killed while snorkeling. Police found no trace of him, but Turner’s wife was able to confirm he had been attacked by a shark after one was caught and X-rayed. In the belly of the fish: a hand still wearing its ring.
Sometimes the attacks happen because people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kim Mabouli, a 28-year-old French tourist, was attacked in 2019 while surfing in an area where swimming was banned. The board was found before his remains.
Experts attribute why the island waters around 420 miles east of Madagascar are so infested with sharks to the fact that the area is part of a so-called “Shark Highway” on which the cannibals travel between Australia and South Africa. It may also be influenced by the fact that there is little incentive to hunt sharks on an island where selling shark meat is illegal.
But locals have a solution they hope will thin the shark population and make the waters safer for tourists and locals alike – many of whom are upset about having their surf spots taken away from them.
“They kill the sharks with these things called drumlines,” said Duane, who worked with Hollywood director and producer Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”) on the podcast, to The Post. “It’s a big hook with bait anchored to the bottom of the ocean. The shark bites the hook and gets stuck. They keep a fisherman on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
As soon as a shark is hooked, the coordinates are given to the fisherman. “He has 90 minutes to get there,” Duane said. “If it’s an untargeted one [sea creature], it will be released. If it’s a bull shark, shoot it. The current count says they have killed 135 sharks since 2014.
The technology is not without controversy. “There has been controversy about how to prevent this,” Duane said, referring to the shark attacks. “Is it okay to kill sharks? Does Killing Sharks Even Work? It seems to work. The last attacks were in 2019, so they seem to have got the hang of it.”
Meanwhile, a special underwater fence designed to keep the predators out has been tested – but that may not be enough to quell the vicious sharks around Reunion Island.
As Duane said, “The attacks are all pretty gruesome. Traumatic experiences when people are bitten apart.”