‘Extinct’ snake found alive
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.