A squad of snorkeling grannies made hiss-tory after discovering a rare population of venomous sea snakes in the South Pacific. The women, between the ages of 60 and 75, swim nearly 2 miles a day, five days a week at the Baie des Citrons beach in Nouméa, the capital city of New Caledonia. “The study
A squad of snorkeling grannies made hiss-tory after discovering a rare population of venomous sea snakes in the South Pacific.
The women, between the ages of 60 and 75, swim nearly 2 miles a day, five days a week at the Baie des Citrons beach in Nouméa, the capital city of New Caledonia.
“The study zone is in the most touristic bay in Nouméa, so I often meet people when I am doing fieldwork on sea snakes,” marine biologist Claire Goiran told The Guardian.
It was one of her sea-faring friends, Aline Guémas, who started the group, which helps to aid research by taking photos of snakes during snorkeling ventures then mailing them to Goiran. Eventually, Guémas invited her neighbor Monique Mazière to join, who brought another friend into the mix, and so on.
“Soon there were seven grandmothers helping me,” said Goiran, who dubbed the group the Fantastic Grandmothers.
“Even when I am stuck at university with teaching, I know what is going on in the study zone, because the grandmas survey the zone for me and send me the photos,” Goiran said.
Goiran, of the University of New Caledonia, along with her colleague Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University, knew the almost-5-foot-long venomous greater sea snake, also called the olive-headed sea snake, existed in those waters — but only rarely, with only about six sightings over the past 15 years.
The more photos Goiran received from the intrepid women, the more she and Shine realized their original estimations were off. Now, they believe more than 250 venomous greater sea snakes live in the bay, and they’ve published their findings in the journal Ecosphere, concluding that the snakes’ role in the ecosystem is more important than previously thought.
Nouméa, said Shine, is a very popular tourist destination “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 [the snakes’] benevolent disposition,” he added.
Goiran and Shine agree they owe much of their research success to the grandmas, who can be difficult to pin down.
“There is always at least one away hiking, biking, sailing, taking yoga class or taking care of the grandkids,” said Goiran.
Guémas, Mazière and the other women assure her they’re using precautions as they swim with deadly snakes.
“The snakes are not aggressive, just curious,” said Mazière. “Of course, we will never touch them.”
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