Santa Monica Bay kelp forests once teemed with seven species of abalone —red, pink, green, white, black, pinto, and flat. As the primary sea urchin competitor, these large underwater snails play an important role in maintaining healthy kelp ecosystems and have been sought after by Californians for various purposes throughout history. Unfortunately, overharvesting and disease lead to significant decreases in abalone populations during the end of the 20th century. In 1997, commercial fisheries for all species were closed in California 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 as urchin barrens emerged and abalone died from starvation.
The Bay Foundation’s work, in coordination with government agencies, aims to restore red, green, and white abalone stocks throughout southern California. Despite fishery closures for the past 20 years, wild populations of abalone have not recovered. The low population densities of abalone in combination with warming waters, disease, increased competition from urchins, and kelp forest loss have made it difficult for abalone to recover without direct restoration efforts. Therefore, 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.
TBF has been working to restore abalone to the kelp forests of the Santa Monica Bay since 2010. Current abalone restoration efforts are being supported by the NOAA Restoration Center, NMFS, and NFWF. This White Abalone Recovery Project (WARP) is part of a statewide collaboration dedicated to the restoration of the federally endangered white abalone to the rocky reefs of Southern California. Using red and green abalone as proxies for white abalone has allowed researchers to develop and refine infrastructure, culturing and outplanting techniques, and evaluate habitat suitability, while simultaneously restoring all species to natural rocky reefs.
Progress to Date
- Construction of two separate aquaculture laboratories
- Improved spawning techniques.
- Improved husbandry techniques.
- Outplanted 2,700 juvenile red abalone.
- Outplanted 1,655 juvenile white abalone.