Champion surfer Elio Canestri, 13, was killed by a shark on Sunday off La Reunion Island on the French Indian Ocean, and the fatal shark attack of the young surfer has been one of 16 dangerous encounters with sharks during the past four years. Seven of those 16 incidents ended deadly.
As reported by NBC on April 13, the upcoming teen surfing star was on the water with seven others when the shark attacked him. According to an island spokesperson, the shark sunk its teeth into Elio’s stomach and flung him around the water as he prepared to mount a wave. Even though a rescue boat was immediately launched to help him, Elio died from the severe wounds.
The other surfers and people on the beach who witnessed the shark attack could not believe their eyes. Some of the children who saw the merciless attack on the beach of La Reunion, which is a French territory off the coast of Madagascar, are being treated for trauma.
After Elio’s death, authorities immediately put up a “post-attack procedure” in an attempt to capture the young surfer’s attacker. A specialized boat was sent out to hunt for the killer shark, but the nearly 12-foot tiger shark that was caught and killed just a few hours later did not match Elio’s fatal injuries, according to the medical examiner.
While hundreds of people gathered on the beach off La Reunion Island to mourn the young surfer who was killed by a shark, authorities continue to emphasize that swimming or any kind of water activity outside of so-called safety zones is dangerous. “More than ever, we have to be doubly vigilant and the best way to prevent accidents is to respect the ban,” said local police Chief Dominique Sorain. However, as sharks appear to be taking over the waters off the island east of Madagascar, tourism is declining.
Jeremy Flores, who grew up on La Reunion Island, called Elio “one of our best up and coming surfers” in an Instagram post on Sunday. In response to his post, other surfers are not only expressing their condolences but also their fears that more and more shark attacks on surfers will occur as long as fishermen take the prey that sharks are supposed to hunt for their survival. “Stop the chinese and asian fish hunting and you get your playground back,” reads one post.
The shark attacks on surfers off La Reunion Island are also prompting the call for more education and research about sharks. Since Reunion has become a predator ground, scientists could use it to learn more about why shark attacks appear to be increasing not just off Reunion but around the world.
“Please encourage research. You want answers. Ask scientists to set up acoustic receivers around the island and to acoustically tag sharks. ID them, learn their movements and the timing of movements. Track these with weather patterns, oceanographic conditions, activities on land, etc. Ask scientists to place Remote Underwater Video cameras on your reef. Learn about the size and species present. What are their interactions with the surf breaks? Other fish? Satellite tag them. Where in the water column are they at what time of day? Is it seasonal? Educate communities with your findings. This kind of research is expensive, but will answer many questions. Do your best to encourage research and work with scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders to make an informed decision once you have data.”