Despite intensive sampling efforts in coral reefs, densities and species richness of anguilliform fishes (eels) are difficult to quantify because these fishes evade classical sampling methods such as underwater visual census and rotenone poisoning. An alternative method revealed that in New Caledonia, eels are far more abundant and diverse than previously suspected. We analysed the stomach contents of two species of sea snakes that feed on eels (Laticauda laticaudata and L. saintgironsi). This technique is feasible because the snakes return to land to digest their prey, and (since they swallow their prey whole) undigested food items are identifiable. The snakes' diet consisted almost entirely (99.6%) of eels and included 14 species previously unrecorded from the area. Very large populations of snakes occur in the study area (e.g. at least 1,500 individuals on a small coral islet). The snakes capture approximately 36,000 eels (972 kg) per year, suggesting that eels and snakes play key roles in the functioning of this reef ecosystem.