This blog on New Caledonia is for those of you who ever wondered what life on a tiny island in the South Pacific might be like. Tired of bracing winter winds, the stress of an inner city or simply dreaming of a life change? This is a blog about what happens when, in the words of Yogi Berra, "you come to a fork in the road, [and] take it".

05 February 2006

The Sea Snakes Story

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
A couple of you have noted that I reported swimming with venomous sea snakes in January. I should tell you that you do not see these snakes as a matter of course everywhere in Nouméa (though they are endemic to New Caledonia). You can see a couple here and there near the Meridien and on the Baie des Citrons, but otherwise, they are not out in force. On one particular outing (to Phare Amedee), however, we saw 10-15 of them. They are called "tricots rayés" (or striped sea snakes in English).

A little something about the tricot rayés. They are the most poisonous snakes on the island. They spend half of their time in the ocean and half of their time on land: they can stay under water for up to an hour at a time. Their venom is deadly - powerful enough to kill a human (as it is ten times as powerful as that of a cobra). They are not aggressive, however, and are even somewhat afraid of intruders. They tend to swim away from you as soon as they see you. They also have rather tiny mouths, so you would really have to be in their way (and they would need to be frightened or defensive) for them to be able to (or want to) attack you with their tiny mouths - between your fingers, for example. I should perhaps add, however, that a bite from one of these will kill you in five minutes. There is no known antidote.

We saw these beige and black striped snakes swimming in the sea, swimming through the sand (yes, swimming is the right word - it is really rather beautiful to watch) and curled up in trees. We also saw a black and blue one whose blue was a blue I had never seen in nature (see below). The Australian tourists really liked the tricots rayés and were far from aware of the danger as they would approach them and allow their children to swim with them unknowingly.
Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.
Now for the story: As I am not especially used to swimming with snakes, I was wary of snorkeling under the dock where I knew the snakes gathered in mass. Laurent wanted me to come swim under the dock to the other side where we knew there were a beautiful collection of fish. I said I would go only on the condition that the minute I saw a tricot rayé, I could turn back. The deal was sealed. So I happily snorkeled alongside Laurent and friends. At one point, under the dock, Laurent took both my hands and pulled me towards him - swimming with me. I had a feeling something wasn't quite right, but I kept swimming. We got to the gorgeous fish on the other side and I was in heaven.

On the way back, we swam around the dock, which pleased me no end. When we got back on the beach, Laurent quietly explained that he had taken my hands under the dock, because, yes, swimming behind me, raising his head above the water and ducking back down, was a tricot rayé. Laurent was moving me out of the way in case he needed to become between me and it ... so wholly unbeknownst to me (and a good thing, too), I'd been swimming with venomous sea snakes.


Anonymous said...

YEAH Laurent!!! A million points for you on being a good protector to our dear Julie!!!


steven said...

I got so nervous reading that entry, and seeing the photos, that I vomited and passed out.

Louise said...

The reason why Australians are not worried about poisonous snakes is simple. Of the 10 most venomous snakes in the world at least seven of them live in Australia. We are used to them. They are to be found everywhere but generally if you don't upset them they won't upset you. Some are aggressive and will chase you but usually not. They are all protected native animals and it is an offense to do them harm, but self defense is OK if need be.

Julie Harris said...

Many thanks for your comment, Louise. That makes a lot of sense. Of course Australians are more familiar with deadly animals than those of us in the rest of the world (having more in your country that can kill you than anywhere else). I don't know why I didn't think of this!

Anonymous said...

Yer thanks for that I have 2 small children and was going here but no way am I now it would be our luck we would accidentally stand on one then what dead on 5 min NO THANKS

Julie Harris said...

Dear Anonymous,

Of the many times I have now been around these snakes (and have even seen people handle them), I can say with complete confidence that there is far less to worry about than I originally thought. They are truly fearful, timid animals. It would be very hard to just step on one. I do hope you will venture forth, and not let this story dissuade you from experiencing all the beauty New Caledonia has to offer!


Teresa Calder said...

I have been to new Caledonia 4 times and have never seen one. They are not keen to be around humans. We have more venomous snakes in Australia, do you lock your children indoors?

Julie Harris said...

Hi Teresa - Now having lived in Caledonia for 5 years, I can say we saw many a sea snake. But we have never had any trouble with them, and were much more afraid of the snakes in Australia! No need to look our children indoors in Caledonia. :)