The mystery of French island shark attacks

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Over the past six years a spate of shark attacks have hit the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, leaving nine people dead and many others badly wounded. The problem, virtually unknown before 2011, has traumatised the local population, and in an effort to reduce the danger local authorities have introduced a programme of shark culling, which has outraged conservationists. In all, more than 10 million euros have been ploughed into measures including the erection of safety netting around beaches and the employment of divers to scout for predators close to resorts. But the attacks are continuing, and despite numerous scientific studies no-one knows why. Julien Sartre reports from La Réunion, where locals are anything but united on how to deal with the problem.

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Facing the sea from a beach at Saint-Leu, a resort on the west coast of La Réunion island, the French overseas département (county) that lies just east of Madagascar, a dozen or so surfers were enjoying one of the planet’s best waves for their sport, a roller that just a few years ago was a venue in world surfing championships. But the picture-postcard scene was blotted by two things.