Once upon a time, there was a group of seven best friends. They were the snorkelling-Granny heroes or, as they like to call themselves, “The Fantastic Grandma’s.” Two years ago, these 60/ 70 years old young ladies offered to help scientists document the sea snake population in a touristic swimming spot, known as Baie des Citrons, New Caledonia.
Scientists Dr. Claire Goiran and Prof. Rick Shine have been spending their time researching and documenting the life and presence of harmless sea snakes, famously known as the Turtle-Headed Sea Snake or Emydocephalus Annulatus. The pair have actually been studying these harmless snakes for almost 20 years now. In the first eight years of their practice, they came across a different, larger species, a 1.5-meter venomous sea snake called a Hydrophis Major.
After this sighting, the duo broadened their research in the hope of finding out more about this unknown sea snake. Unfortunately, over 36 months, they only came across 10 Hydrophis Majors. With so few sightings or so little knowledge about the snake, it’s almost impossible to conduct proper research. What would you do? You’d probably rule that practice out and begin something new.
Well, not all superheroes wear capes. The Fantastic Grandmas loved snorkeling recreationally, and spend a lot of their days out in the ocean in Baie des Citrons. The Grandmas always took cameras with them to capture the amazing sea life below. Little did they know that they were about to save a whole science project by capturing what lies beneath the surface while they’re out merely having fun.
For the last couple of years, fully equipt with cameras, the ladies have been venturing underwater and getting very up-and-personal with potentially dangerous reptiles. They have years worth of pictures, which could help elevate the scientist’s research project. Dr. Claire said the results of their pictures were shocking, realizing how much they had massively underestimated the abundance of sea snakes in the bay. This includes the Hydrophis Major sea snake, which has distinctive markings on its body, making itself much easier to be identified in photographs.
The photography project unveiled crucial information about the snakes breeding patterns and the numbers of their young. Prof. Rick also mentioned that the ‘Snorkelling Grandmas’ found various different types of venomous snakes in that small bay. Thanks to these heroes, researches now are aware of the abundance of sea snakes in Baie Bay. There are over 250 snakes in the bay which is occupied by local residents and cruise ship passengers.
Thankfully, no bites have been reported at Baie des Citrons. Dr. Claire is “oh so grateful” to this lovely group of snorkeling Grandmas for being part of what became a very notable citizen science project. She went on to say, “The amazing energy of the Grandmothers and their familiarity with my studies have transformed our understanding of the abundance and ecology of marine snakes in the system. It was a great privilege to work with them.”