White abalone was the first marine invertebrate to land on the endangered species list, thanks to years of over-fishing and breeding habits that require dense populations. Researchers have evidence the White abalone population is declining by about 14 percent each year. In the absence of a solution, the species would likely be doomed to extinction in the coming years.
White abalone are a free-spawning species, meaning the sperm and eggs are released into the ocean. To have a chance at fertilization, the two must come into contact. Given the shrinking number of White abalone in the wild, this is an increasingly big challenge.
Saving abalones through captive-breeding
Through a captive-breeding program, the Bodega Marine Laboratory successfully spawned white abalone for the past three years. It’s possible there are more white abalone in captivity than there are in the wild.
Spawning in the Wild
The team established four sites with artificial reefs in optimal white abalone habitat. No wild white abalone have been found at these sites. Captive abalone were spawned in our lab every spring from 2012 to 2015. The production of one-year-old captive-bred abalone increased every year, from 20 in 2012 to 150 in 2013 to an estimated 2,000 in 2014.
In 2015, the hatchery distributed 200 captive-reared abalone to four partner institutions within the White Abalone Recovery Consortium (WARC). The WARC is made up of Federal and State agencies, universities, public aquaria and aquaculture organizations, all committed to white abalone restoration. The next steps for the program include expanding the captive breeding program to increase production, monitoring abalone health and genetic diversity and performing stocking studies to enhance growth and survival in the ocean. The goal of the stocking program is to create a reproductive population in the wild to bring white abalone back from the brink of extinction.
The project is led by:
- Laura Rogers-Bennett, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and Department of Fish and Wildlife
- James Moore, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Kirsten Gilardi, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center
In collaboration with:
- Gary Cherr, Bodega Marine Lab
- Kristin Aquilino, Bodega Marine Lab
- Cynthia Catton, Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Ian Taniguchi, Department of Fish and Wildlife
- In addition to many other collaborators and partners
- NOAA Protected Resources and Fisheries
- Aquarium of the Pacific
- Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
- University of California Santa Barbara
- Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center