The women of The Fantastic Grandmas have chosen to spend their retirement diving into the ocean to photograph venomous snakes.
The volunteer research group swims up to 1.5 miles 5 days a week in Baie des Citrons, New Caledonia, a French territory 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia.
Since their expeditions began in 2017, The Fantastic Grandmas have documented more than 260 species of snakes.
Prior to the Grandmas’ involvement, researchers Dr. Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University had sorely underestimated the population of greater sea snakes in the bay.
“We know very little about sea snakes,” Dr. Shine said. “Almost everything we know about them comes from ones that were accidentally caught in fishing nets.”
The first grandma to begin snorkeling to contribute to their research was a friend from Dr. Goiran’s diving club, Aline Guémas, 61.
Dr. Goiran told Great Big Story, “It was Aline who suggested taking these photos [of sea snakes] for me.”
Guémas joined Dr. Goiran on weekly snorkel surveys photographing sea snakes and recording their location. Then Guémas invited a neighbor to come help out.
Dr. Goiran recalls, “They asked another friend and another friend, without really doing it on purpose. I found myself with this team of seven grandmothers who do some really extraordinary work.”
The grandmothers meet at the beach at 7:45 AM each morning where they assemble their diving gear and cameras. Then they get in the water and get to work.
“The first time I saw a snake in the sea I was very scared,” one of the women, Monique Maziére, 70, admits.
The coral sea, where they conduct their research is home to over 9,300 marine species including the greater sea snake. The greater sea snake can reach up to five feet in length and is capable of killing a human with a single bite.
“Claire got us to feel comfortable enough to take photos of the snakes; she taught us how to approach them,” Maziére explains, “If we see them coming towards us, Claire taught us not to move, to stay still. They don’t attack, they’re every curious, they really let us photograph them.”
Data and information collected by the women has led to conclusions that the greater sea snakes may play an integral role in the functioning of their ecosystem.
Dr. Goiran is proud and grateful for the work that has led to these insights. “I have been asked ‘Why do I work with grandmothers?'” To which Maziére responds, “And why not grandmothers!?”
“We could think grandmothers are only good for making jam or knitting, but not us. This is our sport.”
The women are honored to participate in research that helps people and pleased that their passions for photography and diving can be put to good use.
Like Dr. Goiran says of her team of volunteers, “…you should never underestimate grandmothers.”