Sea snake species, previously thought to be extinct, reappeared off the coast of Western Australia
A critically endangered sea snake species, which was thought to become extinct, suddenly reappears off the coast of Western Australia.
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The rare short-nosed sea snake was last spotted more than 15 years ago on Ashmore Reef in Timor Sea and it was generally believed that this sea snake species has gone extinct. But luckily, not just one but two such snakes were spotted again in Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia.
A Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer saw the pair of ‘extinct’ sea snake in Australian coast. He took their photograph and sent them to scientists to confirm the discovery.
“This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species,” said Blanche D'Anastasi, lead author of the study.
“We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons, Ningaloo Reed.”
Shored-nosed sea snake or Aipysurus apraefrontalis was the third most common snake species in 1990s before it suddenly disappeared and no individual sightings were reported in the past 15 years, indicating a decline of 90% over the decade or so.
Researchers suggest that more members of the rare sea snake species might also been existing there since the couple was courting.
“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.” D'Anastasi said.
Researchers also reported another unexpected discovery when they uncovered a significant population of leaf scaled sea snake in lush seagrass beds of Shark Bay. This sea snake is also endemic to Australia and is listed as critically endangered species, meaning their population requires special protection.
This species has gone from making up 50% population of sea snakes on reef flats in 1990s to no individual sighting being recored in 2001. Once they have estimated to have 4,000 to 9,000 individuals.
“We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs,” said D'Anastasi. “Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise.”
Despite the discovery of two sea snake species, the significant decline of sea snake population in the region is a concerning problem for scientists.
Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies says. “Clearly we need to identify the key threats to their survival in order to implement effective conservation strategies if we are going to protect these newly discovered coastal populations."
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