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Group: Endangered Species Protection Sought for Black Abalone; Threatened by Overharvest, Disease and Global Warming

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SAN FRANCISCO, California -- The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal administrative petition today seeking to have the Black Abalone protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Black Abalone, an intertidal invertebrate ranging from Coos Bay , Oregon to Cape San Lucas , Baja California has declined by as much as 99 percent in large portions of its range.

Once occurring at densities of up to 120 per square meter, the Black Abalone was among the most common and visible invertebrates in Southern California tidepools. The Black Abalone has now virtually disappeared from the Southern California mainland and from many areas of the Channel Islands where it was once most abundant.

The primary drivers of the decline of Black Abalone are commercial fishing, which severely depleted most populations, followed by the outbreak and spread of a disease, withering syndrome. This disease, has devastated remaining populations in the Channel Islands and Southern California and is spreading northward through the remaining range of the species.

While, in California at least, fishing of Black Abalone is now banned, withering syndrome has yet to be controlled and remains a dire threat to the continued existence of the species. Moreover, withering syndrome is more virulent in warm water conditions; as the sea temperatures off California and Oregon rise in the face of global warming, the deadly effects of withering syndrome are likely to spread to the currently unaffected abalone in the northern portion of the species’ range.

“The plight of the Black Abalone is indicative of what we have done to our oceans,” said Brendan Cummings , Ocean Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Overfishing has rendered ocean ecosystems unrecognizable; global warming threatens to render them completely uninhabitable. Our oceans are in crisis, but if we squarely address these problems, even the most imperiled species such as the Black Abalone can have a chance to recover.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act, has 90 days to respond to the petition. The process of listing a species under the Endangered Species Act generally takes two years from petition to formal protection under the statute. Once listed, the Black Abalone would join the White Abalone and the Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals as the only marine invertebrates protected under the Endangered Species Act. Each of these species has been protected under the Endangered Species Act only following a similar Center for Biological Diversity petition.

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