By Elizabeth Rhodes
October 28, 2019
Snorkeling Grandmas - Sea Snakes
The Fantastic Grandmothers on land (left to right): Geneviève Briançon, Aline Guémas, Monique Zannier, Monique Mazière, Sylvie Hébert, Cathy Le Bouteiller and Marilyn Sarocchi
| Credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

A group of snorkeling grandmothers helped discover a huge population of deadly sea snakes in the Baie des Citrons in New Caledonia.

The seven women, all in their 60s and 70s, are known as “The Fantastic Grandmothers,” and their impressive contribution to marine life research has certainly lived up to their name.

The grandmothers volunteered to assist researchers from the University of New Caledonia and Macquarie University in Australia on a project that tracked the population of greater sea snakes in the bay. The women have been working on the project since 2017, photographing the dangerous creatures while snorkeling.

Snorkeling Grandmas - Sea Snakes
Credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

The study, which was published last week in the Ecosphere journal, noted the surprisingly large number of sea snakes in the bay and praised the grandmothers for their invaluable assistance. Between 2004 and 2012, there were only six sightings of this species of sea snake, and there were 45 recorded sightings in 2016. With the help of “The Fantastic Grandmothers,” the research team recorded over 140 greater sea snakes spotted from October 2016 to November 2018. Scientists were shocked to find so many more sea snakes living in this bay than expected — and the grandmothers are partially to thank for this discovery.

Professor and co-author of the research paper, Rick Shine, told CNN, “The Fantastic Grandmothers are a powerful example — they have shone a bright light into the ecology of sea snakes, in a way that we could never have imagined until they came onto the scene.”

In a statement from Macquarie University, Shine also noted, “they found a large number of lethally toxic sea snakes in a small bay 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 their benevolent disposition.”

Snorkeling Grandmas - Sea Snakes
Credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

In the same statement, the lead researcher on the project, Claire Gorian, praised the grandmothers further, saying, “I have been studying sea snakes in the Baie des Citrons for 20 years, and thought I understood them very well - but the Fantastic Grandmothers have shown me just how wrong I was.”

New Caledonia is a French territory located in the South Pacific. The territory, which is comprised of several small islands, is known for its stunning beaches and vibrant marine life. Baie des Citrons, also known as Lemon Bay, is a popular place for tourists and locals to swim and snorkel.