As people are aware there have been an unusually large number of sharks around Ascension Island this last year and several Islander articles informing people of this increased abundance and the records of sightings collected so far have been published. AIG has also provided bins at the pier-head and asked fishermen to dispose of their fish waste in these bins in an attempt to remove the association of sharks with a constant food source in this area. These regular sightings at the pier-head saw social swimming there stopped (ie NY jump cancelled) as members of the public could see the sharks from the pier. However as shark sightings at Comfortless Cove and English Bay were limited the public continued to use the beaches to swim in the sea.
The recent shark attack incident has prompted a need to reassess the safety of swimming in any of Ascension waters, whether there has been a shark sighting or not. We must now of course accept that these beaches can no longer be considered safer than the pier-head for the public to use.
This is the first recorded shark incident on a swimmer in Ascension; however the increased number of sharks in our waters has brought this endangered species into conflict with swimmers at one of our traditionally safe swimming locations. Though it is worth bearing in mind that shark attacks are rare the recent incident is a reminder that we share the water with an apex predator and they deserve every respect when we enter their ocean.
Therefore we would advise that people don’t take unnecessary risks and ensure that both humans and sharks are given their own space to remain safe. See below some guidelines for entering waters in areas with known shark sightings/incidents.
It is not AIG’s intention to impose legal restrictions on people using the beaches and/or entering the sea. As with the swell conditions, any swimming in the sea is at the public’s own risk, if in doubt, don’t go in.
Warning signs are in place on the two public beaches. General guidance as to the presence of sharks in the waters will also be added to the usual safe swimming briefing given at the airhead and to visiting vessels.
Guidance for entering the water in areas with known shark sightings
• Check out the water before entering where possible – go to higher ground and look to see if any sharks are in the area – though of course be aware that sharks can still enter an area later on.
• Stay out of the water at dawn, early evening, and night, when some species of sharks may move inshore to feed on fish or baby turtles. Sharks are well equipped to locate prey even when visibility is poor.
• Avoid areas where fish waste enters the water.
• It is prudent not to enter the water with an open wound, however small it may be.
• After large swells the waters can become murky – avoid swimming during murky sea conditions.
• Do not wear high-contrast clothing (orange and yellow are said to be risky colours) or shiny jewellery (which may appear to be like fish scales). Sharks see contrast very well.
• Refrain from excessive splashing. Keep pets, which swim erratically, out of the water. Sharks are attracted to such activity.
• Leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is sighted. Do not provoke, harass, or entice a shark, even a small one.
• If fish or turtles start to behave erratically, leave the water. They may be behaving like that because there is a shark in the area.
• Experts suggest that incidents with sharks are more common on lone swimmers – swim, surf, or dive with other people to reduce risk.
• If you are diving and are approached by a shark, stay as still as possible. If you are carrying fish or other catches, release the catch and quietly leave the area.
Though not thought to be connected with the recent incident we would like to reiterate our policy of preventing the regular discarding of fish waste into the sea by using the bins provided. The regular source of food encourages the sharks to that area and gives them reason to remain there. Please also take your food and fish waste away from English Bay and Comfortless Cove to be disposed of at home or in the bins at the pier-head.
Ascension Island Government
24th April 2017