a tan sea snake out of water

Sea snakes

Investigating Australia's northern sea snake populations

Sea snakes are a unique group of marine reptiles found in tropical waters around the world. These animals have characteristic paddle-like tails with one group, the ‘true’ sea snakes, spending their entire lifecycle at sea. Australia is a global hotspot for sea snakes - home to 30 of the 70 known species worldwide.

Global sea snake populations have declined in recent years, including those in the Great Barrier Reef, Western Australia and New Caledonia. Declines in native sea snake populations at the remote offshore Ashmore reef, north-west Australia, have made this species a focus for conservation and long-term monitoring. While the reasons for decline are not well understood, one key concern in Australian waters is that they are frequently caught as by-catch in trawl fisheries.

Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Our research

AIMS scientists are working with global sea snake experts and industry partners to better understand the distribution, ecology and physiology of these animals and the major threats they face.

Scientists want to better understand sea snakes’ exposure and vulnerability to pollution and other threats such as fishing and coastal development. They are also studying their responses to increased pressures caused by climate change.

Remote underwater video cameras and field surveys collect data and help map populations of sea snakes, identifying important habitats as well as areas where populations might be exposed to more threats.

Acoustic tracking has also been used to understand movement and diving behaviours of sea snakes. Our scientists have used sensors placed on animals and laboratory experiments at the National Sea Simulator to better understand the energy and physiology of sea snakes under changing environmental conditions. Knowing this helps us understand how sea snakes deal with rising water temperatures and increased heatwaves.