NOTE: If you are interested in an Oct. 19 media event on this subject (in Channel Islands National Park, Calif.), please see the media advisory at http://biology.usgs.gov/pr/newsrelease/1999/10-14.html .
White abalone - 1,000 to 5,000 per acre - were easy to find in the early 1970s around the Channel Islands off California's southern coast. But by the late 1970s, intense commercial and recreational harvesting made the abalone as difficult to locate a needle in an ocean-sized haystack.
"People thought it was impossible to take such a fecund animal - a single female can produce 10 million eggs in a season - and drive it to extinction through fishing," said Gary Davis, a senior scientist at the Channel Islands National Park.
Next week, a determined group of university, government and private biologists is setting out in a two-person submersible to cruise the ocean floor in search of the rare marine snail. In all, the team will make more than 50 dives to search for the abalone around Santa Catalina, San Clemente and Anacapa Islands and on Cortez, Tanner and Fansworth Banks, all prime white abalone habitat in the 1970s. "We've gone to some senior abalone divers to help learn specific spots that used to be productive for the fishery," said marine ecologist Kevin Lafferty of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
If successful in their forays, the researchers will attempt to develop a
captive-breeding program similar to those used to replenish imperiled
terrestrial species. The group, informally known as the Abalone Restoration
Consortium, has a proactive plan to help the vanishing marine invertebrate.
Biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of California, and
the National Marine Fisheries Service, working with the National Park Service
and the California Department of Fish and Game, obtained federal funds to
initiate a recovery program.
Contact: Catherine Haecker
United States Geological Survey