Two critically endangered species of sea snakes, thought to be extinct, have been discovered by scientists off the coast of Western Australia. Short-nosed sea snakes were confirmed after Grant Griffin, a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife officer, sent a photo of a pair of snakes taken on Ningaloo Reef to scientists at James Cook University.

"This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species," lead author Blanche D'Anastasi said in a release. “But in order to succeed in protecting them, we will need to monitor populations as well as undertake research into understanding their biology and the threats they face."

Short-nosed sea snakes were thought to have disappeared from their only known habitat on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than 15 years ago. Scientists say that the photos of these two alive and healthy snakes suggest that these are members of a breeding population.

The team have also made another unexpected discovery, coming across a significant population of the rare leaf-scaled sea snake in Shark Bay, 1,700 kilometres south of the snakes’ only known habitat on Ashmore Reef. Both leaf-scaled and short-nosed sea snakes are considered as critically endangered under Australia's threatened species list.

The researchers warn that despite the good news, sea snake population have been inexplicably dwindling in marine parks. Vimoksalehi Lukoschek, from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, stated that these species are vulnerable to trawling, which may explain the disappearance of snakes in other areas, hence conservation of these animals is of utmost importance.

"But the disappearance of sea snakes from Ashmore Reef, could not be attributed to trawling and remains unexplained,” Lukoschek adds. "Clearly we need to identify the key threats to their survival in order to implement effective conservation strategies if we are going to protect these newly discovered coastal populations."

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