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Shark fears prompt swim ban on Florida beach

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Hoping to avoid shark bite incidents, Volusia County, Florida, authorities on Saturday banned all water activities off a one-mile section of New Smyrna Beach, south of the Ponce de Leon inlet jetty.

"We just want to be cautious," said Volusia County Beach Patrol Deputy Chief Joe Wooden. "We'll be monitoring from the beach, a boat and the sheriff's helicopter."

Surf was low and winds were calm off the coast Saturday.

Officials were monitoring the waters for a cluster of sharks that live in these bait fish-rich waters, ever since a series of shark-bite incidents began several weeks ago. Eight people were bitten in the past week; 18 so far this year.

Deputy Chief Mike Hensler said they are watching a large influx of sharks on the New Smyrna side of the Ponce de Leon Inlet.

"It's a very popular area, specific to surfers," Hensler said. "We still have 46 miles of beach the public can use in Volusia County. It's just a small strip that's closed to swimming."

The section of beach access has been closed to the public since Thursday morning, an unprecedented step, admitted Wooden.

"We never close for a full day," he added. "You cannot launch a boat from the beach, you cannot walk off the beach to swim, boat or whatever, or surf."

The waters off Volusia County are home to many sharks year round. But it is the larger-than-normal number of sharks clustered in one area that has the beach patrol worried.

A mixed group of 50 to 60 sharks was spotted close to the surface Friday, Hensler said. He said one of his men would go up in a helicopter and check again Saturday, just as they do every day.

Extra beach patrol personnel are helping to enforce the water restriction, and they have the authority to arrest anyone who defies the closure order. The Volusia County Beach Patrol said it will constantly monitor and reevaluate the safety situation through the weekend.

On July 5, George Burgess of the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History, told CNN that shark attacks are not on the rise and a swimmer's chances of being bitten remain "minuscule."

"We're kind of right on target for this year" regarding reported attacks worldwide, he said .

Burgess, who monitors shark attacks worldwide, said that 25 shark attacks have been reported around the globe this year, compared with 58 reported attacks in 1999.

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