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Black abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California: 2019, annual report

May 12, 2020

The U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center’s Santa Cruz Field Station, Santa Cruz, California, has been funded by the U.S. Navy to continue monitoring a suite of intertidal black abalone sites at San Nicolas Island, California. The nine rocky intertidal sites were established in 1980 by Glenn VanBlaricom (then of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to study the potential impact of translocated sea otters on the intertidal black abalone population at the island. The sites were monitored from 1981 to 1997, usually annually or semi-annually. Monitoring resumed in 2001, and regular annual monitoring cycles have been conducted at the sites since then. The study sites became particularly important, from a management perspective, after a virulent disease decimated black abalone populations throughout southern California beginning in the mid-1980s. The disease, withering syndrome, was first observed on San Nicolas Island in 1992 and during the next few years reduced the population there by approximately 99 percent. The species was subsequently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2009.

The subject of this report is the 2019 monitoring cycle of the sites and how the current status fits into the long-term data at San Nicolas Island. Since 2001, the monitored population has increased nearly tenfold to approximately 8.7 percent of the pre-disease level. This increase has resulted from generally higher levels of recruitment than seen in the first two decades of monitoring, punctuated by a few high recruitment events. Most of the population growth has been at two of the nine sites (sites 7 and 8). This pattern continued in 2019 with increasing numbers at sites 7 and 8 and the highest number of abalone counted and measured island-wide since 1996. However, counts declined at six of the sites during the last year and the increases in counts at sites 7 and 8 barely offset these losses. Recruitment rates have fallen since a peak in 2017 but 2019 continued to show some additional recruitment. The distance between adjacent black abalone, a metric relevant to potential reproduction, has decreased substantially since it was first consistently measured in 2005. Although sand burial can have devastating localized consequences to black abalone, the sand cover data we collected was not sufficient to suggest an obvious temporal or site-based pattern to sedimentation, and there is no indication that this was a factor in any of the declines recorded in 2019. Continued monitoring of these sites can provide island biologists with species trends to aid in adaptive management of the resource.

Publication Year 2020
Title Black abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California: 2019, annual report
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201047
Authors Michael C. Kenner
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1047
Index ID ofr20201047
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center