Sea Snake Island | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

In this exciting adventure, Jonathan travels to Manuk, a tiny, uninhabited volcanic island several hundred miles from the nearest populated island in Indonesia, on a mission to discover why the waters of this remote place are teeming with thousands of venomous sea snakes!

And if you love sea snakes, check out our adventure with sea snakes in Australia:

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Some of the world’s richest coral reefs thrive in Indonesia. Located in the middle of the so-called coral triangle, the diversity of species and colors of Indonesian reefs absolutely amazes me every time I get the chance to dive here.

This time however, it’s not the reefs I have come to film, but a remote and uninhabited island whose waters are reputed to teem with thousands of sea snakes!

The island, known as Manuk, is an active volcano a hundred kilometers from the nearest inhabited island, smack dab in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago.

Getting there is no easy task. I have chartered the Seahorse, a traditional Indonesian Pinisi built for divers, for a special itinerary to reach Manuk Island.

Divemaster Jandri meets me at the marina in Sorong. It took me 2 full days of flying just to get to Sorong from the United States!

He takes me out to the Seahorse, my home away from home for the next two weeks.

This expedition will take 14 divers 1200 miles across the Banda Sea, from Sorong to Alor, stopping to dive along the way at many islands, the most important of which of course is Manuk.

The island is aptly named: Manuk means “bird” in several Indonesian dialects. And birds it has!

Manuk is completely uninhabited and there are a few reasons why. First of all, it’s kind of steep. But more importantly, it’s an active volcano! There are steam and sulfur vents all over the island.
It swims casually by flapping its flattened, paddle-like section of tail.

Sea snakes are among the most venomous animals on Earth. They use this venom to hunt, and fortunately, attacks on people are extremely rare.

Soon I start to see other sea snakes, and I realize that more and more have been appearing. Were they here before and I didn’t see them, or did they come out from someplace?

Clearly, some were sleeping. This one is taking a nap in plain view on the reef. I guess they don’t really have to worry about predators.

I watch this one sleep for a little while, and start to wonder if it’s even alive.

Pretty soon I notice that as the snakes are waking up, they are coming over to check me out.

Like land snakes, this is how a sea snake “smells” but at the same time, the tongue flicking helps get rid of excess salt from glands in its mouth.

Because sea snakes are reptiles just like land snakes, they have lungs and need to breathe air just like people. So a sea snake must head to the surface every once in a while for a breath. Sea snakes have a huge lung that takes up nearly the entire length of their bodies so they can hold a big breath that will last a while. Each time a sea snake surfaces, it usually spends a minute or two resting and breathing, before gulping in that last big breath and diving back down to the reef.

A breath can last 1-2 hours depending on the species, but most sea snakes breathe more often than that unless they are sleeping. They can also absorb a little bit of oxygen from the water directly through their skin, which helps them extend their dives.

The next morning I’m up at sunrise, and heading out to the reef for an early morning dive. Early morning is when the sea snakes hunt, and I’m hoping to witness the reef alive with sea snakes on the prowl!

Underwater, the light levels are still low, and I’m heading out to a deep seamount where I saw a lot of sea snakes yesterday. This should be a good place to find some sea snakes hunting.

When a sea snake hunts, it takes advantage of having a small head and a thin body to go from hole to hole in the reef, poking its head inside. It hopes to corner a fish or invertebrate that’s hiding in the hole.

Once the hunting starts, more sea snakes start coming in to the reef to join the hunt.

On this seamount more than a hundred feet from the surface, dozens of sea snakes are gathering to prowl the reef for food.

Sometimes, they appear to work together to make sure nothing escapes.

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