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Attack in Sharm el Sheikh
Please visit the CDWS Link above for the latest information about the shark attacks that have happened in Sharm el Sheikh recently. It has been a tragic couple of weeks in Sharm, with four snorkelers and a swimmer being involved in shark attacks in the area. An oceanic white tip was definitely involved in two of the attacks, as it has a distinctive notch in its tail fin, spotted both times. However it is believed that maybe a mako was involved with another attack. The mako has since been caught, I believe.
Until now, I have kept my comments to a minimum and simply put links up to the CDWS website where the latest updates are being posted as and when they emerge. Sadly being very much a small town, with a lively and passionate community living here, the correct news of these events has occasionally been hard to locate, with eyewitness reports of the same event sitting poles apart. What we do know is that the experts have been assessing the white tip's behaviour and their work is on-going. It has been seen by divers in the areas between the tip of Ras Mohammed and the Gardens in Sharm el Sheikh, and at present, it appears quite calm, and chilled out, however as a precaution, snorkelers, swimmers and novice divers are still not allowed in the water. I believe that soon certain shallow, sheltered bay areas may soon be open to swimmers and snorkelers.
To look at things a little closer, as a location, Sharm is blessed with beaches that melt into reefs at less than 1metre's depth. These reefs then drop away vertically to a minimum of five metres, sometimes deeper. In most locations, a mere fifty metres from shore, you will find yourself over particularly deep water. This results in some glorious sea life, however it can also, in some locations, result in swimmers and snorkelers easily venturing over very deep waters without realising the implications.
Whilst no one can say for sure, it is suspected that a collection of events have culminated in these tragic attacks. Firstly fishing has become an ever increasing problem here in Sharm. As a guide I have seen illegal fishermen selling their wares to dive boats moored up in Tiran. I have also seen early morning fishermen all gathered around Jack Fish Alley as well as the Shark and Yolande reefs. I was involved with the reporting of a commercial fishing net our divers found sat across a deep section of Yolande Reef. This was later removed as part of a project run by a colleague of mine Neil Black. I have also seen depressingly large numbers of fishing line cascading down from the cliffs of Shark Observatory, gathering algae where they have had to remain, having become entangled with the corals and left behind. Just to clarify, fishing in all of these areas is illegal. The snapper gather on these reefs in summer, and part of their reason for being here is to become part of the summer feast for visiting sharks. We have seen this "wall" of snapper decrease visibly, and apparently this year it hit a crucial fifty percent depletion. Ironically it has been a couple of years since I have seen the big black tip sharks that used to hang around with the barracuda here, and those sharks that are still here, I guess are now a little more hungry than usual.
Another element believed to have brought the shark in closer towards the shores, is that apparently some hotels and boats have been throwing in meat and chicken in the hope of attracting the said sharks, although I personally have not borne witness to this. What I have seen regularly, is snorkelers and swimmers hand feeding the reef fish. This may seem like a harmless fun, however creating a small feeding frenzy in these waters is not only damaging to the delicate balance of the reef, it will potentially attract the attention of a hungry big fish. Again all fish feeding here is illegal.
The temperature of the sea is unseasonably warm this year too, so the sharks have hung around, whereas their horde of summer fodder has long been depleted. There is also talk of carcasses thrown into the water from passing cargo ships that I am sure would not have helped the situation.
The tragedy is that this could have all been avoided if people had followed the rules, and now we are all paying the price for the ignorance of a few. The rules were put there for a reason, so maybe now people will follow and enforce them. I know this may mean a stroppy tourist or two, but hey, better a stroppy tourist than a dead one in my book.
We don't know when things will return to normal. For now, we are still bundling ourselves onto buses, packing up the pick ups and taking ourselves, our newbie divers and our dive kit up to Dahab. More experienced divers can still dive in Ras Mohammed and Tiran, as it is believed that they will be more relaxed in the water (less flappy), may well have dived with sharks before and have knowledge of how to react should there be a large shark in their presence.
It needs to be noted that at no time have any divers been attacked, in fact it is extremely rare for sharks to have any interest in divers at all. To the uneducated of course the tempation is to kill all the sharks in the area... surely problem solved? Err, no, this could not be further from the truth. To remove all the sharks would remove a vital and fundamental element in the local ecosystem. The reef is a delicate puzzle and each piece plays its part. For example, the sharks keep the other meat eaters in check, allow them to proliferate and another fish populations will be decimated. That fish then has its natural prey which could then overwhelm the reef... that may be a coral eater.. so the corals could get depleted and so on. At the end of the day, removing the sharks would eventually destroy the reef and its inhabitants. We have already seen how the removal of some of the shark's natural food has dramatically changed the behaviour of this shark. So trying to play with mother nature at best is foolish. The reef is the very life blood of Sharm and the reason all the tourists and divers flock here, so our best bet is to try and restore balance, by following the rules, and the recommendations put to us by the experts who have given us their time and knowledge over the last weeks.
To answer some of your questions, the Shark Trust has created a collection of FAQ's which we have shared here
For the latest situation in Sharm, do keep track at the CDWS news page, they will not engage in gossip and speculation. The reports that they post are backed up with some kind of proof, as opposed to the heresay that has been flying around the forums and social networks.
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