The allegedly extinct short-nosed sea snake has resurfaced after 15 years, scientists have recently announced.
The sighting was reported off Western Australia’s shoreline by Grant Griffin, an employee of the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia.
The officer took several photographs of a couple of snakes he encountered in Ningalo Reef and forwarded them to the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, affiliated with James Cook University, in Townsville.
After researchers analyzes the images, they came to the startling conclusion that the reptiles are actually two Australian short nosed sea snakes (scientifically known as Aipysurus apraefrontalis).
This predatory species had been categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species approximately five years ago, but an actual specimen hadn’t been reported ever since the year 2000.
Back in the 1990’s, the reptiles, whose natural habitats were in Australia’s Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs, were considered to be the third most frequently encountered type of sea snake.
However since there had been no sightings in the last 15 years researchers had assumed that the species had gone virtually extinct by now, suffering a population loss exceeding more than 90% across 3 generations.
Now it appears this theory will have to be revised, since there are still some short nosed sea snakes roaming Australia’s waters, although their true number remains unknown.
Even more promising is the fact that the two snakes captured on camera were actually performing a mating ritual. This indicates that they are actually part of a group whose number may be growing, since free interbreeding hasn’t been put on halt.
Furthermore, Australian scientists have also discovered an unusually large group of Aipysurus foliosquama (commonly known as leaf-scales sea snakes), which had also been labelled as critically endangered on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.
While the reptiles’ usual habitat spans across less than 4 square miles in Ashmore Reef, now they have been encountered more than 1,000 miles away from that area, in Shark Bay’s seagrass meadows, proving that they don’t rely exclusively on tropical coral reefs after all.
The findings have been detailed in a study published in the online edition of Elsevier’s Biological Conservation journal.
Blanche D’Anastasi, PhD candidate in the ecology and connectivity of seas snakes at James Cook University, has led this research and according to her it remains crucial to intensify conservation efforts, especially now that there is hope to save some species from imminent extinction.
As she recommends, the sea snake population should be more closely tracked, so as to identify potential variations and trends.
Currently, it’s believed that these reptiles are endangered because of coral bleaching, coupled with excessive pressure on their natural habitat.
Another possible explanation for their decline might be trawling, a type of fishing through which boats drag fishing nets across the ocean floor.
Image Source: Channel News Asia