Environmental and anthropogenic factors affecting the increasing occurrence of shark-human interactions around a fast-developing Indian Ocean island

Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 27;8(1):3676. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21553-0.


Understanding the environmental drivers of interactions between predators and humans is critical for public safety and management purposes. In the marine environment, this issue is exemplified by shark-human interactions. The annual shark bite incidence rate (SBIR) in La Réunion (Indian Ocean) is among the highest in the world (up to 1 event per 24,000 hours of surfing) and has experienced a 23-fold increase over the 2005-2016 period. Since 1988, 86% of shark bite events on ocean-users involved surfers off the leeward coast, where 96% of surfing activities took place. We modeled the SBIR as a function of environmental variables, including benthic substrate, sea temperature and period of day. The SBIR peaked in winter, during the afternoon and dramatically increased on coral substrate since the mid-2000s. Seasonal patterns of increasing SBIR followed similar fluctuations of large coastal shark occurrences (particularly the bull shark Carcharhinus leucas), consistent with the hypothesis that higher shark presence may result in an increasing likelihood of shark bite events. Potential contributing factors and adaptation of ocean-users to the increasing shark bite hazard are discussed. This interdisciplinary research contributes to a better understanding of shark-human interactions. The modeling method is relevant for wildlife hazard management in general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bites and Stings
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Indian Ocean Islands
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Sharks*