TBF began actively working to restore abalone to the kelp forests of the Santa Monica Bay in 2010 with a Community-based Restoration Matching Grant from The Nature Conservancy and the NOAA Restoration Center. The NOAA Restoration Center, NMFS, and NFWF support our current abalone restoration efforts.
This collaborative project pulls together several organizations to restore abalone to Southern California and to learn as much as possible in the process. Previous work has looked at genetics of abalone and the prevalence of withering syndrome, a lethal disease that nearly wiped them out. Lessons learned from this project are now informing our current efforts to restore other abalone species to the wild, most notably the endangered white and black abalone.
Abalone Deck Spawning
In the latest phase of abalone research, TBF and NOAA researchers are attempting a new field spawning method referred to as “deck spawning”. This method allows us to collect abalone from the wild, induce them to spawn on the deck of our research vessel (R/V Xenarcha), and return them to the wild the same day after spawning. Researchers have found that it is very difficult to collect abalone from the wild and reliably get them to spawn over long periods of time. Deck spawning allows us to spawn abalone without keeping them in captivity, reducing the cost of supporting adult abalone in an aquaculture facility, and keeps wild abalone in the ocean.
Visit our In the News page for stories about this project.
Visit our research papers page for our published papers on this project.
Visit our Reports and Technical Documents page for annual reports on this project.
Returning Abalone to Southern California
Santa Monica Bay kelp forests once teemed with seven species of abalone —red, pink, green, white, black, pinto, and flat. These cryptic large underwater snails have been sought after by Californians as far back as people have lived on our coast. Unfortunately, overharvesting and disease severely impacted abalone by the mid 1990’s. In 1997, commercial fisheries for all species were closed and only a highly restricted recreational fishery for red abalone was permitted north of San Francisco Bay. This northern recreational fishery was closed in late 2017 by the emergence of purple sea urchin barrens resulting in red abalone dying from starvation.
Disease, overharvesting, warmer water, overpopulated sea urchins, and loss of the kelp forests have contributed to the decline of abalone populations and made the natural recovery of most California species nearly impossible.
The Bay Foundation’s work, in conjunction with government agencies, is aimed at bringing back all abalone stocks throughout all of southern California. Abalone are density dependent broadcast spawners, meaning they need high numbers of the same species in close proximity to each other in order to successfully reproduce. Wild populations of abalone have not recovered even though there has not been a fishery for them for more than 20 years. We are actively researching wild and captive spawning techniques, methods for raising abalone in aquaculture facilities, and approaches for outplanting abalone back into the wild to rebuild natural populations.
The TBF ‘Ab Lab’
TBF recently constructed a state of the art abalone research laboratory located at the Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI) on Terminal Island in San Pedro, CA. This lab is allowing us to conduct controlled experiments to better understand abalone broodstock conditioning and spawning behavior. SCMI is conveniently located near our kelp forest restoration sites on Palos Verdes, where our research vessel is berthed, and where we plan to outplant abalone back into the wild to restore their populations.
The new TBF abalone laboratory will act as a southern California hub for abalone research and restoration activities, and enable us to work more closely with partners across the west coast to help these important marine snails recover in the wild.
TBF staff recently spawned red abalone in the new lab and tracked their progress from fertilized egg to growing larvae. Check out their early life stages below!