SAINT-DENIS DE LA REUNION, France:  The dangers of shark attacks are no secret for Georges, who as a kid was repeatedly warned to beware of the large predators lurking in the tropical waters off his native Reunion island.

That was several decades ago, and the issue since then has mushroomed in the French Indian Ocean island following several deadly shark attacks, sparking a tug of war between those who want to protect the fish and those who would like to see preventative culls.

“We always talked about sharks in the Reunion. When I was a kid, our parents were already warning us,” said Georges, who did not give his surname, as he took in the rays on a beach protected from the sea predators by a coral reef.

But the 48-year-old, who now lives in mainland France and was holidaying on the island, said the issue had become increasingly high-profile in recent years, “because the attacks have multiplied.”

Since 2011, there have been 12 shark attacks in the Reunion, of which five were deadly. Just this year, a French honeymooner died when he was attacked by a shark as he surfed, and a teenage girl was killed while swimming just metres from the shore.

Swimmers, tourists, surfers, fishermen, politicians, authorities, activists: all have firm - and often discording - opinions on how to handle a situation that is harming the Reunion’s reputation as a paradise destination. While none deny that shark numbers have increased, they differ on the reasons for this recent spike.Some point to the wastewater that is discarded into the sea from ever-expanding urbanised zones, full of organic compounds that the sharks come to devour.

Others blame the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long natural marine reserve along the coast - created in 2007 - where fishing is either banned or strictly regulated.–AFP