Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Black Abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—2021, annual report

December 13, 2022

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 effect 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. Since 2018, the work has been carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. 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 2021 survey of the sites and how the measured population status compares to the long-term data (collected over several decades) at San Nicolas Island. During the last two decades, the total monitored black abalone population at the island has grown approximately ten-fold after the disease related decline, from about 200 to more than 2,000 abalone. Since it was first consistently measured in 2005, the mean distance between adjacent black abalone has decreased substantially from approximately 50 centimeters to less than 15 centimeters, indicating that abalone are close enough together at several of the sites to reproduce successfully. The 2021 counts were the first since 2016 to indicate a possible decline in the monitored population at San Nicolas Island. Although still more than ten times the population counted in 2001, counts on the transects dropped by 13.6 percent from the survey count in 2020. The most significant decline was the loss of 341 abalone, from the previous count of 547, on a transect that since 2002 had the highest count of all 44 transects. Between 2020 and 2021, there were increases and decreases at the sites and the transects at each site. Although the 2021 count was lower than the 2020 count, it was the second highest since 1997. Based on the number of small abalone counted, recruitment rates were similar to most years since 2008 and higher than the rates observed before the population declines resulting from withering syndrome.

Publication Year 2022
Title Black Abalone surveys at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—2021, annual report
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221107
Authors Michael C. Kenner, Julie L. Yee
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1107
Index ID ofr20221107
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center