Stakeholders: Shark attack can hurt Tobago’s tourism

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A warning sign erected at Store Bay. Several beaches along the northwestern coast were ordered closed on April 26 after a British toursit was bitten by a bull shark near Starfish resort. – Corey Connelly

TOBAGO tourism stakeholders are worried that the industry will take a pricey hit after the April 26 shark attack on a British tourist.

This weekend the island was set to host the Tobago jazz experience with many locals and foreigners flocking to enjoy the music and beaches.

However, at least seven beaches along Tobago’s western coast, including Pigeon Point, Mt Irvine and Store Bay, as well as the famous Buccoo Marine Park, remained closed to the public on April 27 as a precautionary measure. The THA says they will reopen on a phased basis. Beaches on the north-eastern and eastern sides of the island remain open.

Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Curtis Williams on April 27 told Newsday the attack will affect the island’s tourism sector in the short term.

“Definitely there will be a bit of fallout there, knowing that this is jazz weekend and people were looking forward to going to the beaches,” he said.

But he was optimistic the beaches will reopen soon.

The Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) met with lifeguards, divers, reef boat operators and other stakeholders at Fairfield Complex, Bacolet Street, Scarborough, to discuss how they should operate in the event the shark was spotted

A map released by the THA depicting where the bull shark had been spotted and the span of beaches which remain closed to the public. –

Williams applauded the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and TEMA’s handling of the incident.

“I spoke to a couple of the people in the UK and the accident is all over the media. But we handled the narrative nicely. We have taken measures to close the beaches and we have sought assistance from the Coast Guard and other entities to treat with marine safety,” Williams said.

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president Alpha Lorde said the situation must be closely monitored.

“There is always a concern because we have to pay attention to the feelings of the person reading the news and how they will interpret it. Would there be an impact (on tourism)? In the short term, possibly, but it is left to be seen,” he said.

On April 26, British national Peter Smith, 64, of Berkhamsted, England, was attacked by a bull shark while bathing at Turtle Beach, near Starfish resort.

Initial reports said his left hand, from the elbow down, was badly damaged in the attack. Smith also sustained serious injuries to his left thigh and stomach. The incident occurred around 9.15 am.

Smith was taken to the Scarborough General Hospital after the attack.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine and Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith B.Yisrael gave updates on Smith’s progress.

Shark attack victim Peter Smith, 64, pictured with his wife Joanna, 62, is said to be in a stable condition in hospital in Tobago. – Photo FACEBOOK/JOANNA SMITH

In a brief statement in the executive council’s media WhatsApp chat group on April 27, B.Yisrael said, “The medical team at the Tobago Regional Health Authority is working closely with his family to determine the best course of action going forward.”She said additional information will be released “when it is appropriate to do so.”

Augustine, at a Zoom news briefing late on April 26, said some reattachments of Smith’s fingers were done. He added there were “significant wounds on one of his legs that cannot be completely closed.”

“He will require extensive work. The task at this time for our health professionals is really to stabilise and ensure that we can save life and limb as much as possible and the extensive work that is required will happen subsequently. But we are happy to see that he is stable and doing well and is expected to recover from the incident.”

Augustine said Smith was vacationing with his wife and some friends and were scheduled to return to England on April 26 via a British Airways flight.

He said he has since spoken to Smith’s wife, assuring her that the THA will provide accommodation and meals for the family until such time as her husband is safe to return to the UK.

Augustine also said the THA is working closely with the British High Commission to ensure that the family get all that they need during this difficult time.

The commission, he noted, has also been in contact with British Airways “so that whenever it is suitable for the family to return to the UK, that they will be able to do so without additional charges to return home.”

Beaches remain closed

At Store Bay, visitors said they were disappointed they could not go into the water.

Visitor Anil Ramsaroop, who lives in Fyzabad, told Newsday, “This is my first time in Tobago and I was very disappointed because I cannot even bathe in the beaches and they are so beautiful. But I don’t have a choice.”

Fyzabad resident Anil Ramsaroop, a domestic tourist, gives his views about the shark attack in Tobago. – Corey Connelly

He said he will return to Tobago.

Lifeguard Errol Cato said during his 19 years on the job he has never heard of a shark incident in Tobago.

“I would have seen what has taken place in Australia, where there were a lot of incidents,” he said.

He said people were reluctant to come out of the water when the directive was given to shut down the beaches.

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris believes Tobago’s beaches are sill safe for bathing despite the “unusual and unfortunate” incident.

“Prior to this incident, I am being told that nothing of this nature would have occurred in the Tobago space for the past 50 years,” he said in a WhatsApp video.

Morris urged people to visit Tobago and enjoy all that the island has to offer.

“Our beaches remain quite safe for bathing and human enjoyment.”

However, he warned against sensationalising the incident.

“I have noted with great concern information being shared, some of which are inaccurate, misleading and do have damaging and irreparable consequences for Tobago’s tourism product. Therefore, I wish to caution persons to be very careful as to what you are sharing in the social media space.”

Lifeguard Errol Cato during an interview at Store Bay, in Tobago on April 27. – Corey Connelly

Morris said the incident also presents the perfect opportunity for the THA and its agencies to review its crisis management and communication strategies to ensure there is a more co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy that outlines very clear and concise standard operating procedures in managing and communicating information.

$10,000 reward revoked

Meanwhile, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has revoked the $10,000 reward it offered to registered fishermen to capture the bull shark that attacked Smith.

It was responding to calls and concerns raised by environmentalists.

During his Zoom news briefing on April 26, Augustine said there was “some confusion” about the reward that was offered.

“During the course of the day a bounty went out offering $10,000 for registered fishers who can help us capture the bull shark. In some jurisdictions they refer to it as rescuing the bull shark, meaning being able to remove it from where it can cause harm to individuals to put it in a place where it can’t cause harm to individuals,” he said.

“So because there is some much confusion over the bounty that is out, I have asked for the ad to be retracted effective immediately and I have asked that the fishers work along with the Coast Guard, work along with the divers and other stakeholders to expertly man the area.”

Augustine said the Department of Marine Resources will continue to monitor the space.

“We have had constant monitoring during the day (April 26). We had monitoring from Coast Guard. We had monitoring from marine resources along the affected areas and that will continue across the weekend and into the foreseeable future so as to ensure that we can treat with the matter in the most responsible manner possible.”

Augustine said the beaches and Buccoo Marine Park cannot be closed indefinitely.

The THA has taken some heat for its decision to offer a reward for the shark’s capture.

People’s National Movement Tobago Council political leader Ancil Dennis, in a post on his Facebook page, said, “Implementing a $10,000 shark bounty is a misguided and reactionary response from the THA.”

Lifeguard Errol Cato during an interview at Store Bay, in Tobago on April 27. – Corey Connelly