SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government today announced its proposal to protect 150 square miles of rocky California shoreline for the endangered black abalone. The decision results from a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to designate critical habitat for the shellfish, which, once common in Southern California tide pools, has declined by 99 percent since the 1970s.
“If the black abalone is going to survive global warming and a host of other threats, it must have a safe haven along California’s rocky shores,” said Catherine Kilduff, a staff attorney at the Center, which filed its suit over critical habitat in March. “Lessening assaults on the marine environment can help recover black abalone, which is a crucial species in kelp forests.”
While fishing for black abalone is now banned in the state, overfishing initially depleted the population. Now global warming is exacerbating the outbreak and spread of a disease called withering syndrome that has caused black abalone to virtually disappear from the Southern California mainland and many areas of the Channel Islands. Increasingly, ocean acidification threatens the abalone’s growth and reproduction and reduces the abundance of coralline algae, required for young abalone settlement and survival.
“The loss of black abalone along the California coast is a warning: Our oceans are in trouble,” said Kilduff. “Improving water quality by addressing contaminants, ocean acidification and ocean warming will give black abalone a chance at survival as well as benefit all marine fish and wildlife.”
After a petition by the Center, black abalone was listed as an endangered species on Jan. 14, 2009. With that listing, federal agencies by law must protect the abalone’s critical habitat. Safeguarding black abalone habitat means curbing climate change and ocean acidification. The government must avoid destruction of the abalone’s habitat by permitted activities such as projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions, coastal development, wastewater treatment, pesticide application and livestock operations on federal lands. According to the federal government’s own data, species with critical habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act are twice as likely to be recovering as those without.
More information on the black abalone is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/black_abalone/index.html.