Bull Shark, by anonymous via Creative Commons

Bull Shark, by anonymous via Creative Commons

Shark Week!

Recife Brazil: One of the World’s Top 10 Shark Infested Beaches


Before 1992 the beaches of Recife, Brazil were bustling with swimmers and surfers. But that’s not the case today. Now listed as one of the Top 10 Shark Infested Beaches in the World (according to The Discovery Channel as well as the International Shark Attack File), you’ll find many signs along the water’s edge warning about the dangers of swimming. With this reputation, perhaps it’s no wonder that the first English-speaking taxi driver I encounter in Recife wants to talk about the shark attacks.


“Do you swim on the beach?” he asks. I tell him I don’t go far and ask if it’s as bad as people say.


He assures me that it is. He explains that sharks never used be a problem in Recife, but he believes the building of a nearby port has caused them to come closer to shore. This sticks in my head, and I make a mental note to look into this claim…

Kids playing on Boa Viagem Beach

Kids playing on Recife’s Boa Viagem Beach

About Recife Brazile

Recife is the 5th largest city in Brazil and the capital of the Northeastern state of Pemambuco. A major port on the Atlantic Ocean, its name is derived from the coral reefs that are dotted along the shores. While primarily known as an industrial zone in the region, tourism is growing here, and becoming a viable industry in its own rite.


According to an article on Recife in Brazilian Vibe magazine, “Recife Brazil is among the great destinations in the world that has more tourists than its actual population.” Other than shark attacks, the city may be best known for Carnival, which boasts a more authentic experience than you’ll find in Rio de Janiero. Millions of people flood the streets each February to partake in the sites and sounds of the Carnival spirit.


Couple that with year-round tropical climate, dozens of historic churches, large outdoor markets and the nearby town of Olinda (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982), and it’s no wonder the city of Recife is becoming a more popular tourist destination.


Shark Warning Signs in Recife, Brazil

Shark Warning Signs Line Recife’s Beaches

Shark Attacks

Prior to 1992, there were virtually no reports of shark attacks along the 12.5-mile coastline of Recife. But between June 1992 and September 2006 there were 47 shark attacks resulting in 17 deaths. According to the Shark Attack File, the most recent attacks in Recife occurred in 2011.


Two of the attacks resulted in wounds to the legs and thighs. A third possible incident involved 14 year-old Gabriel Alves dos Santos, who went missing while swimming off the coast of Boa Viagem. His body washed on shore several days later, having sustained multiple bite marks, but it’s unknown whether his death was directly related to a shark attack.


While some attacks were clearly due to swimmers and surfers venturing out further than recommended, a 2004 BBC article profiled Walmir da Silva, who was only waist-deep in water when he was pulled under by a shark in 2002. The victim ultimately lost his left arm and left leg from the knee down.


In da Silva’s case the predator was a bull shark, which is known for swimming in warm, shallow water. According to National Geographic, Bull Sharks are considered the most dangerous sharks in the world due to their tendency to live near high-populated areas. They join the Great White and Tiger Shark as the three shark species most likely to attack humans.


Still, the question remains: Why the sudden spike in shark activity on such a concentrated stretch of coastline?

No Surfing Sign in Recife, Brazil

No Surfing Sign in Recife


According to an article on Save The Waves, Recife was once home to approximately 15,000 surfers. However, once shark activity increased the government placed a complete ban on surfing. Anyone caught surfing off the coast of Recife today faces a hefty fine.


Many locals believe that the government did this as a way to place blame on surfers, saying they were paddling too far off shore and inciting attacks. Surf enthusiasts feel the decision to ban surfing was an unjust cover-up of the real reason for the increased shark activity: Irresponsible urban development practices, which disrupted local habitats.


“The government used the surfers as a scapegoat for their development. Their motivation was to stop the bad press that would in turn hurt their tourism revenues,” claims a representative from the Save the Waves coalition.


 Boa Viagem Beach

Locals Strolling Boa Viagem Beach

Environmental Changes

Many locals believe that the real cause of the increased shark activity was the building of the nearby Suape Port and the environmental degradation that followed. Originally, four rivers converged into the Bay of Suape, but during port construction the mouths of the Ipojuca and Merepe Rivers were filled in, changing the direction of river flow. The interruption of these rivers blocked access for bull sharks, diverting their activity closer to the shores of Recife’s beaches.


An International Shark Attack Workshop was held in Recife in November 1995 to find the cause for increased shark activity. Participants included 16 representatives from local universities, natural resource and beach safety agencies, government representatives, and five scientists. The group participated in site visits and referred to the results of a one-year research project conducted by the UFRPE (“Ecology of Sharks in the Coast of Pernambucu State“), which led to many explanations for the influx of shark activity.


One factor was indeed the opening of the Suape Port, which caused “massive environmental damage,” including the manipulation of river flow, loss of mangroves and increasing maritime traffic. Additional causes were listed, such as the general desegregation of nearby coastal ecosystems as a result of coastal development.



In an effort to minimize future attacks, several ideas were suggested. Protection netting was deemed too environmentally damaging and expensive. More feasible ideas included banning surfing and educating the public on how to minimize interactions with these potentially dangerous animals. It’s obvious that the signs are effective: On any given day, the beach in Boa Viagem is filled with people playing volleyball or strolling along the waters edge.  Yet, with the exception of children playing close to shore, rarely do you see throngs of people enjoying the ocean.


Boa Viagem Beach in Recife, Brazil

On Any Given Day, You’ll See Far More People On Boa Viagem Beach Than You See In The Ocean

Why Visit Recife Brazil?

The measures mentioned above have proven effective and shark attacks in Recife have decreased in recent years. To date, there have been no attacks in 2012.


One vendor, known as “Lula,” sees no reason for people to stay out of the water. He’s been renting chairs and selling goods on Recife beaches for 25 years, and has never witnessed any type of shark activity. His advice to beach-goers? Don’t go past the reefs you should be fine.


Native Recifian Carulina Vieira remembers a time before sharks were a problem. “I had a great childhood at the beach. On our summer vacation we would spend the whole day at the beach, and when I was a teenager we heard about the first shark attack in the city. We would not be hesitant, because the area where we lived was protected by reefs.”


There’s no denying that things are different now, but Vieira doesn’t think that should deter people. “We still have other beautiful beaches near Recife, and there are also reef-protected areas where you can swim without worrying. [The warning signs] are necessary,” he admits, “because some people may not know about the attacks. But I think it should be more explanatory about what is going on, and not just a scary thing.”
Recife, Brazil has certainly paid for the environmental sins of its past, and is slowly working its way back to becoming a flourishing community. Perhaps one day the signs will come down, and locals and visitors alike will once again feel safe enough to enjoy the waters of Recife uninhibited. –text/photos by Ashley Brechtel. Read more of Ashley’s work at her blog, Aspiring Gypsy.


If you enjoyed reading Recife Brazil: One of the World’s Top 10 Shark Infested Beaches, you might also like:

Colombia- Cartagena

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Panama- Top 5 Eco Attractions

43 Responses to Recife Brazil: One of the World’s Top 10 Shark Infested Beaches

  • It sure does seem that shark activity, including attacks, is changing worldwide. On the other hand, some of our best animal encounters have been with sharks–including scuba diving with dozens of hammerheads off Cocos Island in Costa Rica. As with all human/animal interaction, finding a fair and healthy balance is key. That’s just extra tricky when the animal in question has so many teeth!

  • AvaApollo says:

    Sounds like live and let live is working out by just staying out of the water. I like that plan vs. harming the sharks.

  • Cole @ Four Jandals says:

    A whole ban of surfers is outrageous. If surfers want to surf where there are known shark attacks then let them. They still surf in Oz! Then again not sure if I would want to actually go out if I was the only one out too…

    • I agree with personal liberty and responsibility, Cole. However, if the government knows there’s an increased risk of shark attack in that area and they DON’T do something to stop people from surfing, they’re liable to get sued by someone if there’s a shark attack. They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Personally, I think if there are warning signs and you go surfing anyway, you deserve whatever you get. In nature, they call that “Natural Selection.”

  • Laurence says:

    I wouldn’t go in the water here. People always used to ask me in Seychelles if I was afraid to go in the sea, and my response was no, of course not, and in fact up until last year there had never been a shark attack out there. That changed last year, with two victims nibbled on. On the grand scale of things though, there are far more likely ways of dying. At this beach though.. it sounds like the risk is much amplified, and as I’m not one for playing in oncoming traffic, I’d give it a miss!

  • Shark attacks around the world, most recently in western Australia, are on the rise. I think it’s really hard to define why this is happening. Lots of theories and speculations but I am not sure we can really understand what goes on in the mind of a shark. Most of the time it is mistaken identity but why such an increase? I find shark week and sharks fascinating. However, I grew up at a beach where we had no sharks. Yet I am still very wary about going into the water. And quite honestly, I have no desire to surf.

    • I’m not really interested in surfing either, but it has less to do with sharks and more to do with the fact that I’m fairly certain I’d find a way to fall and break something. As for the sharks, our oceans are in a state of emergency, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that its top predators are doing whatever they have to do in order to survive. It’s high time human beings realize that we cannot continue to harm Mother Nature without there being some sort of repercussions.

  • A truly awesome piece…as a native Floridian, by nature I am conditioned to be afraid of sharks in the ocean. I think many tourists come to the state without knowing the potential danger, and get out too far. Most of the time on the news, the people getting attacked are not from Florida, although just as often it is a surfer. The way I see it, the ocean is their territory and I’m invading it…swim at own risk:)

    • This is why we love the Gulf side of FL (and Sanibel Island in particular): Very rarely do you see anything bigger than little lemon sharks over there.

      • Patrick Bates says:

        Catch many sharks off that beach. Don’t be fooled. Just landed 8 black tips over 5′ long each. I mean a weeks ago. 10′ nurse and a 9 1/2 ‘ hammerhead 3 years ago 400 yards from the state beach. I have gotten a 20’ ofr so foot long bull shark next to the boat and no way to land it. Lemons, reef, spinner, black tip, nurse and bulls abound that entire area. Leave dock at fort Myers beach and go to san beach to catch them after we catch bait of Ft Myers channels. They all bite !

  • Sophie says:

    Never really heard much about sharks in the Atlantic. Interesting article – food for thought.

  • I always had a dream to go to Brazil. It has great beeches and looks amazing place to go on holiday. Now I know where not to be swimming. I would rather not risk a limb. This means that I won’t be found on the beehes of Recife. Thanks for this interesting article.

    • I always dreamed of going to Brazil as well, particularly the beaches and the Amazon. But, the more research we’ve done for GGT, the more shocked I am by how the nation seems to be letting its greatest natural resources be plundered for financial gain. From what we’ve read, the Brazilian Amazon is just a mere shadow of its former self. At some point, we hope similar nations will come to understand that preservation and conservation can lead to more sustainable, long-term profits.

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  • Very interesting! Similarly to the increased shark attacks in the Red Sea of recent years – human environmental damage is the likely culprit.

  • Dr. Whalen says:

    It’s good that they prioritize the safety of beach goers, rather than commercializing the area for tourists. Too bad that this was once a surf haven. Do shark attacks even happen when people just swim near the shore?

  • Albert says:

    I did not know of this peculiarity of Recife, thanks for putting me aware of this fact, I have a great fear of sharks is one of my biggest phobias.

  • I agree that shark attack rates are changing. There have been an increase off the west coast of Australia recently — with some really gruesome stories. It’s scary but with all the changes in the world and environment, it seems only natural that this would change too.

    • Yeah, I’m afraid Mother Nature is a perfect example of karma keeping things in balance. The more we exploit her natural resources, the more the natural disasters, shark attacks, etc. seem like the forces of natural selection in action.

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  • Angela says:

    I think the best solution would be to avoid bathing where sharks are more prone to arrive, without placing other material in the water, also a greater respect of the environment would help, us and the sharks, which are beautiful creatures.

    • I wish it were that simple, Angela, but I think it’s often difficult to tell when, where and how sharks will make their presence known, especially when humans interfere with the natural order of things. Unfortunately, we seem to be more and more of that as our global population gets increasingly out of control.

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  • Nam says:

    i guess most shark victims were dumb tourists who didnt do any research about shark infested water.

  • paulo says:

    Updated July 22, 2013
    Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.
    We recorded 59 attacks, with 23 dead and 36 wounded.
    date began to be recorded starting in the year 1992.

  • Jenna says:

    I had no idea about the shark attacks there and the possible connection between urban development, so thank you for this article. In response to the above comment, I think it’s unfair to say this is due to “dumb tourists.” Most tourists on Brazil’s coast are Brazilians who enjoy going to the beach for holiday. to say that the 14-year-old who was enjoying the ocean water is a dumb tourist seems insensitive.

    • I’ll agree with you that calling them dumb is insensitive. However, as you can see from Ashley’s photos, there are signs all up and down this beach warning people that there is abundant shark activity there. If calling the swimming tourists dumb is insensitive, I’d say swimming in water where there are warning signs and a well-documented history of shark attacks irresponsible at best, and reckless to boot!

    • Craig says:

      Crazy, the day you wrote this Bruni gobbi died after a bull shark attack at that beach. May she R.I.P

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  • Interesting to learn about how shark increases relate to urban development and environmental changes. I was very intrigued to see how these changes effected the environment and its inhabitants more than people think.
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