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Black abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—2020, annual report

March 19, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey monitors a suite of intertidal black abalone sites at San Nicolas Island, California, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, which owns the island. The nine rocky intertidal sites were established in 1980 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 biennially. Monitoring resumed in 2001 and has been completed annually since then. At the time of this report, the work is conducted by the Western Ecological Research Center’s Santa Cruz Field Station, Santa Cruz, California. 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, it reduced the population there by more than 99 percent. The species was subsequently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2009.

The subject of this report is the 2020 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 twelvefold to approximately 9.6 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 unexplained high recruitment events. Most of the population growth has been at two of the nine sites (sites 7 and 8). This pattern continued in 2020, but with increasing numbers at all sites and the highest number of abalone counted and measured island-wide since 1993. Recruitment rates have fallen since a peak in 2017, but 2020 continued to show moderate levels of additional recruitment. The distance between adjacent black abalone has decreased substantially since it was first consistently measured in 2005, potentially indicating that the abalone are close enough to one another to reproduce successfully. Sand burial can have devastating localized consequences to black abalone, but there is evidence suggesting that they may be able to escape periodic sand inundation if suitable refugia exist. These data suggest that monitoring can inform adaptive management of the resource by base resource managers.

Publication Year 2021
Title Black abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—2020, annual report
DOI 10.3133/ofr20211023
Authors Michael C. Kenner
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2021-1023
Index ID ofr20211023
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center