Locals and visitors welcome the reopening of Tobago’s beaches after a shark attack

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A man threw himself into the water at Store Bay on Friday after ten beaches reopened following the shark attack at Turtle Beach on April 26.  - Visual style
A man threw himself into the water at Store Bay on Friday after ten beaches reopened following the shark attack at Turtle Beach on April 26. – Visual style

On May 3, there was a collective sigh of relief in Tobago after the Office of the Chief Secretary (OCS) announced the reopening of all the island’s beaches and beach facilities.

Boat trips to the idyllic Buccoo Marine Park, one of Tobago’s top tourist attractions, are also resuming, much to the delight of locals and visitors.

Beaches along Tobago’s west coast – including popular Store Bay, Pigeon Point and Mt Irvine – were immediately closed 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 Scarborough General Hospital and later flown to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, Florida.

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

“I didn’t think I would go into the water. But now if you look at the water, you can see that it is beautiful and it is impossible not to go into 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 to Tobago on May 2.

Asked how she felt when she heard a shark had attacked a tourist, Philogene said: “It was quite nerve-wracking. I had been put off before when I came. But now I just feel like it’s too beautiful not to 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 doing fine.”

Cumuto couple Jamal and Rasheeda Sahadath, who have been on the island since Thursday, said they are happy that the beaches are open again.

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

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

“We were in Tobago for the weekend and didn’t know the beaches were open this morning (May 3) when we arrived. But then we got the news and we were bathing at the time and having a great time.

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

Jamal admitted that they had been looking for sharks while bathing.

“We have been to Tobago a few times, but I have never experienced this scary experience with sharks. We just hope everything will go well.

Avery Thomas, who calls himself an ‘all-rounder’, 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 an existence for the people. People need something to do when they come to the island and the beach is one of the things they come to visit on the island,” he said. “So when the beach was closed, people were panicking and wanted to go home because they came to enjoy the beautiful, clean water that Tobago has.”

Asked if he thought authorities were taking too long to reopen the beaches, Thomas said: “Everything takes a bit of attrition. If a man is bitten by a shark and is an international man, this is the first such incident on the island.”

Beach lovers take a dip in Store Bay, Tobago, on Friday afternoon. – Visual style

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

“So it was a surprise to see someone come here and get attacked by a shark. I said the tourist spoke too early.’

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

He said he was resting while the beaches were closed.

“But the opening is very nice. People will come by.”

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

“It’s a bit quiet. There is not a large group of people. But some were bathing in the Nylon Pool,” he told Newsday.

Frank, owner of Frankie Tours, said there were just over 10 people during his 11am sailing on May 3, but more people were expected during the 2pm sailing.

“But people live on all the beaches and that’s a good thing.”

He said the beaches should never have been closed.

Meanwhile, the THA Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development said in a press release that the marine park will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

It stated that all operators must be qualified in seamanship and first aid.

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

It said customers must respect the environment by not creating waste or disturbing wildlife.

The division urged swimmers to be aware of their surroundings and any risks to marine life, and to follow guidance from lifeguards and marine park authorities.

It also urged people to ‘swim with a group or a buddy and stay close to shore’.