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France - Réunion

Surfers, fishermen clash with police over Réunion shark attacks

Reuters/Laurent Campas

Surfers and fishermen clashed with police on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion Tuesday during a protest over a spate of shark attacks, some of them fatal. Protesters tried to break into the headquarters of a marine nature reserve they claim is attracting man-eating sharks.

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After eight attacks and three deaths in less than 20 months, about 100 people demonstrated outside the building in La Saline-les-Bains on the west coast of the island.

Gendarmes prevented them entering by force and bottles were thrown from the crowd.

A delegation eventually met the reserve’s director, Soraya Issopa-Mamode.

Nearly all of the attacks, the latest of which took place on Sunday, have taken place in the 40-kilometre reserve, which was set up in 2007 to protect coral reefs and is now home to an estimated 3,500 species of fish and shellfish.

The protesters claim that the fish attract sharks and, with much of the island’s economy dependent on tourism or fishing, hostility has grown as the attacks have become more frequent.

Researchers believe that waste caused by a threefold growth in the urban population in 30 years is as much if not more of a factor.

Local authorities ordered measures to try to control the phenomenon on Monday but they do not seem to have satisfied the protesters.

Experts point out that jelly fish stings cause 10 times more human deaths than shark attacks.

Between 50 and 100 fatal shark attacks have been recorded per year over the last 10 years, according to the International Shark Attack File, compared to 600 people killed by elephants, 5,000 by scorpions and 100,000 by snakes.

There has been rise, however, possibly because of the spread of surfing and other water sports and the decline of fish numbers due to overfishing.

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