Shark Attack

There’s been a fatal shark attack in the Eastern Caribbean chain a few days ago. It happened up in St Martin, the French island, a few hundred nautical miles north-east from here. St Martin is one island, but split into two nations. There’s the French half which takes up the northern part of the island. The southern half is Dutch. It’s called St Maarten.

The attack was in the north, on the Atlantic, eastern side of the island. It happened in the middle of the day, right by the shore. A woman in her late 30s, a French tourist, was swimming when she started to scream. A kitesurfing instructor got to her and found her unconscious and gravely injured.

I’m not ghoulish. Well, not completely. It has just taken me by surprise. Part of the reason I feel so comfortable swimming in the Caribbean is the lack of shark attacks on the islands. The Bahamas obviously is way more sharkey, but that is a distinctly different part of the Caribbean chain, much further north.

Down here in the heart of the Caribbean, well – no one says sharks don’t exist. We’ve seen fishermen preparing sharks on the dock in St Lucia. They were big sharks too. Jack asked where they were caught, the answer was, ‘Just out of the bay.’ Gulp. We looked out. Not far then.

Barbados also had sharks. Especially in Port St Charles, where we were, Close to the northern tip of the island, tiger sharks were well known. One fisherman regularly baited a large hook to the sea floor, only a mile away. He told us he would come by in the mornings and often find a tiger shark hanging on to it.

Since the attack, I’ve been following the thread on the St Martin news site, Le Pelican. Many of the comments point out this is the shark’s territory and though they give condolences to the victim’s family, they rail against catching the shark. In the meantime, St Martin have imposed a swimming ban until December 16th. That’s the French side. I’m not sure about the Dutch.

Reading the comments, my spot’s been on the fence. I know locals don’t want a killer of humans swimming close to shore. This is so unusual here, it’s almost unheard of. There is also a tourist industry based around the water – vital to the Caribbean economy.

Because of the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean where there’s been 11 fatal shark attacks in a decade, there’s also some interesting French chat going round. I’ve been reading. Thank you, translation button.

Apparently, Reunion didn’t get regular sharks attacks until it opened a marine reserve in 2007, very close to the two main swimming beaches on the island. I read however, that Mauritius and the Seychelles, which also had shark attacks, dealt with the problem differently.

After the attacks, comments say the Seychelles and Mauritius actively fished the sharks from their inshore waters. The plan was not to let the sharks ‘settle’ close to the shore. Since then, it’s gone quiet. Although in Reunion, the decision was made to stick to the marine reserve plan. Now, according to the thread, you no longer travel to Reunion to swim. Hike, yes. Swim in the swimming pool, all good. But what we do everyday and take for granted – have a little dip in the sea – not in Reunion.

So, what’s going on in St Martin, I wondered? Well, as the waters are cooling right now in the tropical Caribbean, this is the time of year when sharks come in. Tiger sharks in particular hunt turtles – so if this is a seagrass lagoon, it’ll be full of green turtles. Gulp again. Poor woman. The shark was probably busy looking for turtles and came across a pair of juicy legs.

But why now? After all, the rare but regular case of mistaken identity which happens in coastal waters has largely avoided this Caribbean region.

We’ve definitely seen a change since Covid began. The most noticeable thing for us was the immediate quiet. The lack of marine traffic. From busy busy in Barbados to immediate… nothing. It was quite startling. We enjoyed it, but I remember the spookiness of it too. We did wonder then if sharks would come closer to shore without the noise to scare them away anymore.

It would make sense that nature flourishes in the quiet. Nature’s return has been one of the few triumphs of Covid times. Hopefully, we’ll be telling future generations about it.

Still, I have to be honest. I enjoy hearing the odd engine pootle past our own mooring site. I’m not that brave.

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