‘Ex­tinct’ snake found alive

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Tom Zaun­mayr

A species of sea snake has re­turned from the sci­en­tific abyss af­ter a pair were found court­ing on the Nin­ga­loo Coast.

The crit­i­cally en­dan­gered short nosed sea snake was be­lieved to be ex­tinct af­ter dis­ap­pear­ing from their only known habi­tat on Ash­more Reef more than 15 years ago.

But a chance en­counter occurred when Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife Ex­mouth field of­fi­cer Grant Grif­fin wit­nessed two of the snakes get­ting frisky on WA’s Nin­ga­loo Reef.

Mr Grif­fin said when he first saw the pair he was not aware he had made a sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery.

“I took the photo and took it back to the of­fice and no one there was really sure what species it was,” he said.

“When I got onto Blanche (D’Anas­tasi) they nar­rowed it down to two crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species straight away.

“I think they have been here all along but peo­ple just haven’t iden­ti­fied them be­cause a lot of th­ese species look sim­i­lar.”

A sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of the rare leaf scaled sea snake was also found in Shark Bay, about 1700km from its only known habi­tat on Ash­more Reef.

JCU Aus­tralia Re­search Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for co­ral reef stud­ies PhD can­di­date Blanche D’Anas­tasi said it was ex­cit­ing to see sug­ges­tions the snakes were part of a breed­ing colony. “This dis­cov­ery is really ex­cit­ing. We get an­other chance to pro­tect th­ese two en­demic WA sea snake species,” she said.

“But in or­der to suc­ceed in pro­tect­ing them, we will need to mon­i­tor pop­u­la­tions as well as un­der­take re­search into un­der­stand­ing their bi­ol­ogy and the threats they face. We were blown away. Th­ese po­ten­tially ex­tinct snakes were there in plain sight, liv­ing on one of Aus­tralia’s nat­u­ral icons, Nin­ga­loo Reef.”

Ms D’Anas­tasi said de­spite the good news sci­en­tists were still at a loss to fig­ure out why sea snake num­bers con­tin­ued to de­cline.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Al­bert Ja­cob said the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered short-nosed sea snake was last recorded at Ash­more Reef in the Ti­mor Sea in 1998.

Mr Ja­cob said the find­ings high­lighted the im­por­tant role the State’s marine parks and re­serves played in help­ing con­serve pop­u­la­tions of marine fauna.

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