Two venomous sea snake species that were thought to be extinct appeared off the coast of western Australia, surprising researchers.
The yellowish-brown short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) and the brownish-purple leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama) vanished from the Hibernia and Ashmore reefs in the Timor Sea between 1998 and 2002.
The Conversation – a scientific communication website – stated that reef surveys from 2001 to 2012 failed to find any brownish-purple leaf-scaled sea snakes or yellowish-brown short-nosed sea snakes in those reefs.
In 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the two snake species as critically endangered. They also made it to Australia’s threatened species legislation the following year.
For the study – published in the journal Biological Conservation – the researchers decided to launch a search for the two species of snakes. After more than sixty hours of snorkelling and scuba diving, they managed to find seven yellowish-brown short-nosed snakes and seventeen brownish-purple leaf-scaled snakes. The search turned out to be a success.
Researchers took samples from the snakes and used genetic analysis to verify the species. Blanche D’Anastasi, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said that the discovery was really exciting, because the two snake species were not extinct after all.
The snakes were not found in the reefs that they were known to live in. The purplish Aipysurus foliosquama was found 1,065 miles (1,700 km) from the Ashmore Reef, in the subtropical Shark Bay.
In April 2013, Grant Griffin, a wildlife officer with Western Australia Parks and Wildlife, took a photo of two yellowish Aipysurus apraefrontalis that were floating around in Ningaloo Reef.
Approximately 35 of the 70 sea snake species in the world can be found in Australia. They are very important in maintaining coral reef ecosystems, according to researchers.
It is still a mystery why the two venomous snake species relocated from the Timor Sea reefs to other areas, D’Anastasi stated. It may be that climate change, loss of prey and habitat, disease, or effects of mining extraction, harmed the local sea snake populations, forcing them to move to other reefs.
Image Source: qzprod.files.wordpress