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Snorkelling grannies uncover sea snake population in New Caledonia


Snorkelling grannies uncover sea snake population in New Caledonia

There is a saying ‘you’re never too old’ – and a team of seven snorkelling grandmothers are proving that as they have assisted scientists with research into a sizeable population of deadly sea snakes in New Caledonia’s Baie des Citrons, an area popular with tourists.

‘The Fantastic Grandmothers’, as they refer to themselves, have been working closely with a team of scientists from the University of New Caledonia and Australia’s Macquarie University since June 2017.

The seven, who are all in their 60s and 70s, are dedicated snorkellers, and they actively volunteered to take part in the research, which involves them photographing the venomous sea snakes.

Now their efforts have helped show in a new report – published in Ecosphere Journal – that there is a much larger and well-established population of one-and-a-half-metre greater sea snakes (Hydrophis major) in the bay than was first thought.

Claire Goiran, the lead researcher and scientist at the University of New Caledonia, commented: “I have been studying sea snakes in the Baie des Citrons for 20 years, and thought I understood them very well – but the Fantastic Grandmothers have shown me just how wrong I was.”

She went on to say that the seven had ‘transformed our understanding of the abundance and ecology of marine snakes in this system. It's a great pleasure and privilege to work with them’.

Between 2004 and 2012, there had been only six sightings of this toxic but thankfully calm species in that area, and while this had grown to 45 individuals by the end of 2016, it was only from photographs taken by the Fantastic Grandmothers and Goiran herself that enabled them to record more than 140 greater sea snakes between October 2016 and November 2018.


Photo credit: Claire Goiran

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