The risk of shark attacks has led to an unprecedented decision to call off an elite surfing competition in WA

Steve Robertson/Getty ImagesCourtney Conlogue of the USA competes in the 2011 Margaret River Pro

The World Surf League (WSL) called off the Margaret River Pro because of recent shark attacks in the area.

The competition forms part of the WSL World Championship Tour, where the top ranked surfers compete over a 12-day period.

The WSL CEO made the decision yesterday out of concern for the safety concerns of participants.

“This decision has been reached after many hours of consultation with a variety of stakeholders and experts,” Sophie Goldschmidt said.

“The WSL puts the highest premium on safety. This cannot be just talk, and it cannot be compromised. Surfing is a sport that carries various forms of risk, and is unique in that wild animals inhabit our performance environment. Sharks are an occasional reality of WSL competitions, and of surfing in general. Everyone associated with our sport knows that. There have been incidents in the past — and it’s possible that there will be incidents in the future — which did not (and will not) result in the cancellation of an event. However, current circumstances are very unusual and troubling, and we have decided that the elevated risk during this season’s Margaret River Pro has crossed the threshold for what is acceptable.”

Earlier in the week two separate shark attacks occurred at nearby Gracetown, approximately six kilometers from the primary event site at Main Break, and as a result nearby locations have been closed to surfing and swimming.

Google MapsMain break at Surfer’s Point and Gracetown further north.

“We are committed to being as prepared as possible for what nature throws at us. The WSL maintains strong and constantly-improving safety, monitoring and support infrastructure and protocols, and we would normally have a high degree of confidence in our ability to protect our athletes. However, the threshold has been crossed for the organization and if we decided to continue the event under the current circumstances, and something terrible were to take place, we would never forgive ourselves.”

She added: “Athlete safety will always be our absolute priority and we thank the local community, our partners and our surfers for supporting the decision.”

The Margaret River Pro is one of eleven WCT events globally, which occur at destinations including O’ahu Hawaii, Lower Trestles California, Jeffreys Bay South Africa and Teahup’o Tahiti.

This year marked the competition’s 33rd year in Western Australia.

Surfers that were due to compete included John John Florence, Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Joel Parkinson, Tyler Wright, Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons.

Yesterday two men were bitten by a sharks near Gracetown. The first had his legs mauled badly and was flown by a rescue helicopter to Royal Perth Hospital (RPH), where he is recovering from surgery in the trauma unit. The second suffered minor injuries.

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