Two rare species of sea snakes, thought to have been extinct, have been sighted by scientists in Western Australia. Neither species, whose only known habitats were a pair of reefs in the Timor Sea, has been seen since 2002. “This discovery is really exciting. We get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species,” says Blanche D’Anastasi, lead author of the report about the find.
Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grant Griffin spotted the two short nosed sea snakes off Ningaloo Reef. He managed to snap a photo of them and sent the shot to D’Anastasi at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
“We were blown away. These potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons, Ningaloo Reef,” says D’Anastasi. Even more exciting is that the pair of snakes appear to be courting in the photo, meaning that may be part of a breeding population.
The second species, the rare leaf scaled sea snake, was found in the seagrass beds of Shark Bay, 1700 kilometres south of their known habitat on the Timor Sea reefs. “We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs. Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise,” says Ms D’Anastasi.
Both species are on the Critically Endangered list and though the find is promising, scientists still don’t know what has caused their decline. “Clearly we need to identify the key threats to their survival in order to implement effective conservation strategies if we are going to protect these newly discovered coastal populations,” says Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
Images via Grant Griffin, W.A. Dept. Parks and Wildlife