Making haste at a snail's pace: Saving the endangered white abalone
Check out white abalone's top 5 new year's resolutions for 2017 here!
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? How about both at once: We think there are now more endangered white abalone in captivity than remain in the wild. While this sadly highlights the critical state of wild white abalone, it also demonstrates the huge success of the white abalone captive breeding program.
Intense overfishing of this tasty marine snail earned it a spot on the endangered species list in 2001. With wild white abalone now so far apart from one another that they are unable to reproduce successfully, experts determined that captive breeding and outplanting were the best ways to save the species. After early breeding efforts were hampered by disease, the program headquarters moved to UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in 2011. Between antibiotic cleansing baths and exfoliating, coconut oil and beeswax treatments, our white abalone healthcare plan now reads like a relaxing spa retreat. With healthy animals and a great deal of collaboration among scientists, aquarists, and aquaculturists to help get the animals “in the mood” for spawning, captive production has skyrocketed, from just a few dozen produced during the 2012 spawning season to thousands in 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now lists white abalone as one of its eight “Species in the Spotlight,” those species most at risk of going extinct in the near future. Happily, captive breeding efforts bring new hope to recovery efforts, and we are excited to start pilot outplanting work in the next few years. By replacing overhead pipes with towering kelp forests and swapping out submersible pumps for steady ocean swells, we hope our precious baby snails might save their species from the verge of extinction.
It's incredibly exciting to be managing UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory's White Abalone Captive Breeding Program. I love the opportunity to integrate research, mentoring, and outreach among lab groups within UCD BML and among state and federal agencies, aquariums, and commercial aquaculture facilities (see list of partners below). Our current research focuses on reproductive conditioning, improving post-settlement survival, and enhancing the genetic integrity of our broodstock.