Expedition Sailing Vessel Evohe
IMG 4974
DSC 23317
Sleeping Quarters
sunset in antarctic peninsula

Filming 'Sea Serpents' a sea-snake documentary for TVNZ's Natural History Unit on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea.

We sailed from New Zealand to Lord Howe Island then inside the Great Barrier Reef to Darwin. 





  • John Hyde

    John Hyde, Russell Kelley

    Peter Hayden


    50 minutes

  • YOP

For millions of years snakes have slithered over the face of the earth. More recently, a remarkable evolutionary journey has seen snakes colonise another domain — the oceans.

Serpents of the Sea intimately reveals the very private lives of sea snakes, and explores their fascinating ongoing evolution from terrestrial reptiles to aquatic adventurers.

The origins of these cold blooded, poisonous invaders of paradise are shrouded in mystery, although the world’s tropical seas are now home to over 50 species of sea snake. Their venom makes them one of the most toxic creatures on the planet, and yet very little is known about them.

One species which scientists have been able to study is the Yellow Lipped Sea Krait, found in the waters of Fiji. More detailed observations of these sea snakes have been possible because, unlike other species, Sea Kraits have retained one important legacy from their earthbound past: when not hunting, they must return to land in order to digest food and lay their eggs.

Their cousins, the true sea snakes, have made a much more successful transition to the ocean, thanks largely to an evolutionary breeding adaptation — live birth. And once free of their ties to land, they have never looked back.

The ‘headquarters’ of these true sea snakes is Ashmore Reef — a protected nature reserve 500 miles off the coast of Darwin, home to more than 17 species of sea snake.

A visit to Ashmore Reef with Zoologist Mick Guinea is an opportunity to study sea snake evolution in action. This is Mick Guinea’s third trip to the sea snake capital of the world, and on this occasion he will undertake his first-ever night dive on the reef.

Few have studied sea snakes in the wild, but they are Mick Guinea’s passion.
His initial studies of some of the Reef’s inhabitants; the elegant Olive sea snakes, charming Turtle Heads, and the more temperamental Stokes sea snakes forms the basis for later, more detailed analysis.

But already some exciting and never-before-seen behaviours are observed.
In a remarkable world first, Serpents of the Sea contains the most intimate footage of Olive sea snakes ever before filmed.

The scientists also discover that sea snakes are much less aggressive than previously thought. And that the evolutionary adaptations of some sea snakes, are taking a remarkable new direction.

Shedding new light on these mysterious invaders of the ocean, Serpents of the Sea is a fascinating journey inside the world of one of the planets most lethal, most maligned, and most adaptable creatures — the sea snake.








Meeting Abstract

P3.68  Friday, Jan. 6  Dwindling Sea Snakes at Ashmore Reef: Searching for the “Elephant in the Room” GUINEA, M/L; Charles Darwin University This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

At least 17 species of sea snakes are recorded from reefs, lagoons and channels at Ashmore Reef on Australia’s Sahul Shelf. Three species are regionally endemic (Aipysurus foliosquamaA. apraefrontalis and A. fuscus) with another two species also endemic to Australia. Surveys to 1998 indicated a stable population of 6 to 17 snakes per hectare of reef flat at low tide and from 1 to 3 snakes per hectare on the sand flats at high tide, but from 30 to 70 snakes per hectare in the lagoons at low tide. Tagging studies over three years estimated from 94 and 192 Turtle-headed Sea Snakes (Emydocephalus annulatus) used a single coral head 30 meters in diameter. Spawning events by Damselfish (Chromis) attracted feeding aggregations of Turtle-headed Sea Snakes. The reef was prolifically abundant with new individual sea snakes swimming into view each minute. By 2008 Ashmore Reef supported less than 1 sea snake for 10 hectares, regardless of habitat, with only three snakes seen in three weeks of survey. Sea snake populations on neighboring reefs, at 30 to 250 nautical miles distant, appeared unaffected. The cause of this decline at Ashmore Reef remains unknown. Possible, but unsubstantiated, causes include: changes in sea level with erosion of reef flats and increased sedimentation in lagoons; changes in water temperature over the expansive reef flat; changes to rainfall patterns; altered management regimes due to increased surveillance of border security; changes to fishing practices by artisanal Indonesian fishers; increased frequency and closer proximity of seismic surveys and gas well construction by petroleum companies. Sea snakes are the marine equivalent of the miner’s canary for reef health. Yet the cause of their decline in numbers and species at Ashmore Reef remains the “elephant in the room” until examined afresh.