Locals, visitors welcome reopening of Tobago beaches after shark attack

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A man throws himself into the water at Store Bay on Friday, after ten beaches were reopened following the April 26 shark attack at Turtle Beach. – Visuals Style

THERE was a collective sigh of relief in Tobago on May 3 after the Office of the Chief Secretary (OCS) announced that all the island’s beaches and beach facilities were being reopened.

Boat tours to the idyllic Buccoo Marine Park, one of Tobago’s major tourist attractions, also resumed, to the delight of locals and visitors.

Beaches along Tobago’s western coast – including the popular Store Bay, Pigeon Point and Mt Irvine – were closed immediately on April 26 after a bull shark attacked and injured a British tourist, Peter Smith, 64, at Turtle Beach, the OCS said in a statement.

It said Smith was successfully treated at the Scarborough General Hospital and later airlifted to the Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, Florida.

UK resident Cookie Philogene, a first-time visitor to Tobago, told Newsday she was excited to swim on the island.

“I did not think I was going to get into the water. But if you look at the water now, you can see that it is beautiful and there is no way you can’t go in the water,” said Philogene, who was accompanied by her companion, Ojo, at the popular Swallows Beach, Crown Point.

Philogene said they arrived in Trinidad on April 29 and came to Tobago on May 2.

Asked how she feltwhen she learnt that a shark has attacked a tourist,” Philogene said, “It was quite nerveracking. I was daunted earlier when I came. But now I just feel that it is too nice to not be in the water. The sea is blue, the sand is white – what can I do?”

Philogene said shark attacks occur in many countries around the world.

“But not for me (where she lives). I am quite fine.”

Cumuto couple Jamal and Rasheeda Sahadath, who have been on the island since Thursday, said they are glad the beaches have been reopened.

Jamal said they were already bathing in Swallows Bay when they got the news.

Cookie Philogene and her companion, Ojo, enjoy a snack before heading into the water at the popular Swallows Beach, Tobago, on Friday. – Corey Connelly

“We were in Tobago for the weekend and we were not aware that the beaches were open this morning (May 3) when we came. But afterwards we got the news and we were bathing at the time and having a great time.

“Water is nice. The weather is nice. And we are glad to know that the beach is officially open in Tobago.”

Jamal admitted they had been on the lookout for sharks while bathing.

“We have been in Tobago quite a few times, but there was never this scary experience with sharks. We just hoping that everything will work out for the best.

Avery Thomas, who calls himself an “allrounder,” tried to sell boat tickets to visitors along the road to Pigeon Point.

He said many people will benefit financially from the reopening.

“It is livelihood for the people. The people need something to do when they come on the island and the beach is one thing they come on the island to visit,” he said. “So when the beach was closed down, people were frantic and were ready to go back home, because they came to soak in the nice, clean water that Tobago has.”

Asked if he felt the authorities took too long to reopen the beaches, Thomas said, “Everything does take a little course to go through. If a man get bite from a shark and is an international man, is the first incident like that on the island.”

Beach lovers take a late afternoon dip at Store Bay, Tobago on Friday. – Visuals Style

He said in March a tourist asked him if Tobago had ever had a shark attack, because such incidents were not uncommon in their country.

“So it was a surprise to see someone come and get attacked by a shark here. I said the tourist talked too soon.”

In dealing with possible future attacks, Thomas said boat operators must be equipped with spear guns “to defend the people if they are in the Nylon Pool.”

He said he rested while the beaches were closed.

“But the opening is a very nice thing. The people will come around.”

Well-known boat operator Michael Frank said although visitors were booking tours to the Buccoo Marine Park, some were still a bit sceptical.

“Things are a bit quiet. There is not a big set of people. But some are bathing in the Nylon Pool,” he told Newsday.

Frank, owner of Frankie Tours, said his 11 am sailing on May 3 had just over ten people, but more were expected on the 2pm sailing.

“But all the beaches have people and that is a good thing.”

He said the beaches should never have been closed.

Meanwhile, the THA Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development said in a release that the marine park will be open daily from 10am-5.30pm.

It said all operators should be qualified in seamanship and first aid response.

To enjoy a safe and enjoyable experience, the division said operators should avoid unsafe practices such as overloading vessels and ensure that adequate safety equipment like life vests are available.

It said patrons must respect the environment by not littering or disturbing wildlife.

The division urged bathers to be aware of their surroundings and any potential marine life risk and to follow the guidance of lifeguards and marine park authorities.

It also urged people to “swim with a group or a buddy and stay close to the shore.”