Brazil’s Recife turns shark threat into tourism draw
By Waldheim Garcia Montoya
Recife, Brazil, Aug 16 (EFE).- A selfie with a sign warning of danger from sharks and pilgrimages to the sites of past attacks have become part of the experience for visitors to the tourist mecca on Brazil’s northeastern coast.
The first official record of a deadly encounter between a human and a shark in Recife dates from 1947, when a young friar in residence at the picturesque seaside chapel in the Piedade neighborhood suffered a fatal bite while swimming.
But attacks became a regular occurrence in the early 1990s after a slaughterhouse began disposing of blood in the waters of the Atlantic, attracting sharks.
The situation grew worse with a major expansion of the neighboring port of Suape, which disrupted the marine habitat and pushed the sharks into areas right off the popular beaches of Recife.
Authorities have closed Piedade beach to bathers and reinforced the usual crew of lifeguards with police, firefighters and other public employees to make sure the prohibition is respected.
Even so, taxis, ride-share cars and tour buses regularly stop in Piedade to give tourists the chance to take photos of the chapel and of the shark-warning signs on the bench.
Visitors ask for directions to the scenes of shark attacks, Guilherme Augusto, who sells sandwiches and soft drinks from a stand at Piedade beach, told Efe.
Thais Leao, who traveled to Recife from the interior Amazonian state of Para, said that she didn’t let fear stop her from approaching the water’s edge to snap photos at the very spot where the two most recent shark attacks took place.
“Now there is a request on practically all excursions and tourist rides to pass by the ‘shark beach,'” travel agent Veronica Veve said.
At the craft market in Boa Viagem Square, keys in the shape of a shark are usually sold out and the top-selling T-shirt is one bearing the cartoon image of a shark.
“Tourists looking for souvenirs always want a shark symbol and there is not a single one left because they all sold. For bottle-openers, they don’t want anything other than the shark one,” merchant Romulo Ramos said. EFE wgm/dr