Projected from the bottom of the seas as one of so many massive eruptions of lava that the climate has shaped and made lush, the Reunion Island it has edges and coastlines almost always abrupt and abrupt. We pointed to Boucan Canot, one of the most famous.
This is what the residents of the capital Saint-Denis complain about, desiring to escape in line with the isolation and routine that, despite the name, the island that welcomed them imposes on them. Thomas was born in Versailles.
He left the refinement and proximity of the Parisian metropolis in search of adventure and a career as a sunnier and more paid teacher in the southern confines of the European Union. As always happens, the plan only partially worked out as expected.
In social and cultural terms, little Saint-Denis kept him corsetted, somewhat depressed. Thomas was counting on the beach to revive his spirits.
He boasted to us and advised us on Boucan Canot as the mecca of sand, water, salt and melanin he had become accustomed to wandering.
It completely omitted the dark side that we would discover.
Beach Day in Boucan Canot
The day has come for us to go south. Boucan Canot stood out from the map and continued to stimulate our memory. We didn't take long to target it.
We took the road that connected Saint-Denis to Saint-Paul.
It only took a few hundred meters to realize how extreme and demanding the Reunion Island.
In part of this route, the coast was so steep and craggy that it had never allowed a route, however narrow. Surrendered to the evidence, the French-speaking authorities erected a viaduct over the sea.
Even so, the road sequence of this viaduct was a road submissive to the cliff, over which, all too often, huge boulders precipitated.
Only strong steel nets prevented these time bombs from causing more serious damage. The attenuated drama was the long lines of traffic with no escape.
When we set out on the road, however, everything goes for the best. We didn't stop at Saint-Paul.
Boucan Canot, a few kilometers away. It appears to us as an unexpected deviation from the coastal road.
Boucan Canot: a frantic beach
We parked. We pass in front of the watchtower at the top of the beach, inhabited by lifeguards always at the ready.
From there, we contemplate it in a panoramic format, between the indented row of coconut trees and that of the surf.
Charged clouds that fly over it thicken the light.
They darken the golden sand, unburdened and shaped by a thousand feet. As long as it was, the beach was far from pineapple.
An obvious thirst for the freshness spread by the surf made most of the vacationers concentrate by the seashore.
We also settled there. We quickly examined the profile of the vacancies. Warm from the sultry day, we join a crowd of bathers already in the water.
A slab of rock covered with stones complicated the inaugural amphibious steps. The force of the waves breaking on the beach further aggravated the vulnerability of those trying to dive.
Finally, we got inside.
In a flash, we find ourselves in a kind of marine washing machine tub.
Waves and Currents, in addition to Sharks
Driven by a storm southwards in the Indian Ocean, the waves arrived without a definite pattern of vigor.
They burst further ahead or further back and surprised bathers who thus found themselves confused and dragged into the rocky area and the beach and bumping into each other.
For those who, like us, had decided to step out safely from the surf and run out of foot, the outlook was not much better.
Intermittent currents caught some of the more reckless adventurers off guard and pulled them out to sea.
In such a way and so often that the lifeguards had already given up on getting in and out of the water. They remained, in strategic positions, over large longboards.
They rescued, one after the other, the bathers in distress.
Despite all the swell and respective commotion, more than used to the violence of the Portuguese sea, we splashed, dived under the surf and just didn't catch rides from the waves because they would end up, painful, on that rocky and stony slab that had made it difficult for us to enter .
We refreshed ourselves as we deserved, already aware that that incursion into the rebellious sea of Boucan Canot had been, in itself, an enormous benefit.
The Plague of the Bull Sharks
Due to the successive fatal accidents that took place there, due to the realistic and painful perspective of repeating themselves, Boucan Canot spends a good part of the time confined to baths. The culprits have long been the same: the bull sharks that plow through the waters around the island, eager to feast on vulnerable meat.
Na Reunion Island, attacks on bathers are repeated more than on the vast Australian coast, which is probably the hottest as far as the subject is concerned. So much so that, in statistical terms, this French-speaking island is the place most likely to hit the face of the Earth.
From 2010 to 2016 alone, the island was the scene of 19 attacks with tragic consequences, 16% of the 491 registered worldwide. Of these 19, eight were deadly. In Boucan Canot and surroundings, there were two registered in 2011 alone. One in 2015 and the last on this beach in 2016.
The 2015 incident killed Elio Canestri, a youth surf champion admired by the local surfing community but not only.
Elio was thirteen years old. He succumbed to the onslaught of a shark that started by biting him in the belly, dragged him away from the board and devoured him as if it were a small seal.
In August 2016, 21-year-old Laurent Chardard was surfing with friends when another shark injured him so badly in an arm and foot that the wounds required amputation.
The Oblivion of Past Events by Group Psychology
In these two cases, as in almost all, the young surfers were thrilled with the huge, well-formed waves that hit the coast.
The fact that they surf in groups of teenagers makes them ignore past events and the official ban on surfing on most of the island's coastline. As well as the respective warnings from the authorities – and think that nothing will happen to you.
The various tragedies forced the Francophone authorities in Réunion to provide the most popular beaches with anti-shark nets, as happened in Boucan Canot and/or other protective systems.
Still, in some situations, surfers ventured into places not protected by these nets.
In others, sharks entered through cracks generated between checks carried out by divers, or over nets that, from time to time, the massive waves lower.
Theories and More Theories
Between periods of mourning for attacks, the inexplicably dynamic surfing and bodyboarding economy of Boucan Canot and the island in general suffers.
Surf shops and schools and even beachfront hotels and resorts close their doors. After a while, the memory fades. The hammocks are patched or replaced and the teenagers regain their usual unconsciousness. Sharks do not forgive the slightest slip and cause new victims.
It remains to be seen for sure what makes Réunion, compared to other parts of the world, such a high number of shark attacks.
When we lived with the island's residents, we didn't hide the curiosity that, as outsiders but not only bathers, the topic aroused us. We tried to clarify ourselves only to reach the conclusion that only theories abound.
They told us about old slaughterhouses on the outskirts of the capital Saint-Denis that used to dump the blood and even carcasses of animals into the sea and thus attracted huge shoals of sharks, mainly the most abundant and active bull sharks there.
They mentioned to us the guilt of the Chinese fishing fleets which, with their huge trawlers, made the usual prey of sharks scarce.
These have increased since the island banned its fishing in 1999, as shark meat was found to contain high levels of the ciguatera toxin, produced by a small plankton organism that eventually accumulates in the flesh of super-predators that The Reunion Island before consuming and exporting.
Environmentalists vs. Surfers, the Confrontation at the Edge of Drama
Whatever the reason, the ferocious bull sharks have proliferated and are used to making up for the lack of food with humans who get by, especially surfers and bodyboarders.
As well as the reason for the drama, the measures to be taken beyond the fallible networks and complementary protection systems aroused an international controversy. Hundreds of articles in the press dubbed the island “the island of sharks”, “shark aquarium”, “the shark attack capital of the world”, etc., etc.
They incited more and more opponents of a newly formed feud. On the one hand are the environmentalists who argue that sharks patrol the sea around the Reunion Island for millennia and that it is surfers and bathers who must respect the natural logic of their existence.
On the other, the world surfing community that shivers with the island's tragedies but defends the surfers' right to surf there without risking their lives.
Kelly Slater's Media Intervention
In 2017, Kelly Slater, eleven-time world surfing champion, reacted to the attack earlier this year with a post on her Instagram page: “Honestly, I'm not going to be popular for saying this but we need to carry out a serious slaughter in the Reunion Island and it should happen every day….”
“If everyone had this attack ratio, no one would use the ocean and literally millions of people would die this way.”
As expected, the post globalized the conflict once and for all. Many fans were disillusioned with Slater when they saw that he was sacrificing his usual environmental posture because, on the other hand, they were surfers.
Environmentalists argue that authorities should bet on more efficient networks and on raising awareness among surfers.
But, above all, in the recovery of coral ecosystems off the island, devastated by trawling overfishing. Boucan Canot has recently received new networks and protection systems.
Since 2016 it has not suffered attacks. the last one, in the Reunion Island, it took place just over a year ago and its bathers and surfers will have forgotten. Given the improbability of the island getting rid of the sharks that surround it, it remains to be seen how long.
More information about this French island in the Indian Ocean on the website of Reunion Tourism