Tight Lines: Divers release white abalone into the wild

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA—A group of divers released endangered white abalone into the wild, just off the Southern California coast, in mid-November. The release of white abalone into the wild was part of a recovery effort to revitalize the white abalone population and bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

The white abalone population began to drop significantly in the 1970s, due to heavy commercial fishing in Southern California.

“Now, the white abalone that remain in the ocean are too few and far apart to reproduce and recover the populations,” according to a report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA.

White abalone is a marine snail found in rocky reefs. Most white abalone can be found along the coasts of Southern California and Baja California. The species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2001.

Releasing the white abalone was part of a breeding program led by the Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) at University of California, Davis. The program, according to NOAA Fisheries staff, “has produced and reared thousands of health white abalone in labs and aquaria throughout California.”

“Now, some of those white abalone are ready to enter the ocean, where they will live, grow and hopefully reestablish self-sustaining populations,” NOAA Fisheries staff said.

A batch of white abalone produced and reared at BML earlier this summer were transported down to Southern California and held at holding facilities, where scientists prepared them for life in the ocean.

Divers with NOAA Fisheries, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Paua Marine Research Group, The Bay Foundation and Aquarium of the Pacific placed 800 white abalones into temporary homes, or “outplant modules.” The modules are made of PVD and mesh, which protects the abalone from other marine life as they acclimate to ocean conditions.

The diver scientist will regularly visit the modules during the next few years and observe the growth of the white abalone population. The goal is to have tens of thousands of white abalone planted into the ocean during the next five years.

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