A team of snorkelling grandmothers have discovered a large population of “rare” venomous sea snakes.
The group, who call themselves The Fantastic Grandmothers and are aged between 60 and 75, have helped marine researchers discover the scale of the snakes – which has resulted in a paper on the matter being published in an ecological journal.
Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University had been studying a small harmless species known as the turtle ‐ headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons on French island New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
The pair spotted the occasional 5ft (1.5 meter) venomous greater sea snake, which had only been spotted in the area about six times over 15 Years.
In 2013, they began to research the sea snakes and Ms Goiran asked a friend to help.
“When I was snorkelling on my own studying sea snakes, I used to meet a friend of mine called Aline that was snorkelling and taking photos on the same reef. In order to help me, she started taking photos of sea snakes and would send them to me by mail, “she told The Guardian.
The friend got others involved and soon there were seven grandmothers on the hunt for the snakes, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.
The sea snakes have distinctive markings and the researchers were able to identify individual animals from photographs the team of amateur biologists sent them.
Prof Shine said: “Remarkably the grandmothers found a large number of lethally toxic sea snakes in a small bay that is occupied every day by hordes of local residents and cruise ‐ ship passengers – yet no bites by the species have ever been recorded at Baie des Citrons, testifying to their benevolent disposition. “
The two academics published a paper in the journal Ecosphere after finding that there are more than 250 greater sea snakes in the area.
They now believe the snakes play a larger role in the functioning of the ecosystem, including potentially through the exchange of nutrients through coral reefs.
Aline Guemas, one of the grandmother photographers, said she was not scared of the greater sea snakes despite their potential deadly bite.
She said the creatures move quickly but “are very slow in their movements when they forage for food”, which is when they attempted to photograph them.
Another member of the group, Sylvie Shebert, said she was initially afraid of snakes.
She told the newspaper: “It has been interesting to learn about and discover their lifestyle and to work with the group.
” It allows us to integrate our swimming with the scientific world by sharing the results of what we find with the res earchers, such as the area where the snake is located, it’s condition such as if it is pregnant or not, that kind of thing. “
The group of women were thanked in the acknowledgements of the paper each by name: Genevieve Briancon, Aline Guemas, Sylvie Hebert, Cathy Le Bouteiller, Monique Maziere, Marilyn Sarocchi, and Monique Zannier.
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