Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The stacks of white, water-filled troughs in a small building at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory offer a bright spot in a landscape of often-grim news about California’s marine environment.
Roughly 2,000 tiny white abalone almost a year into life here represent the promise that an all-but-extinct sea mollusk might survive.
The product of a 4-year-old program that began with 18 wild white abalone plucked from the ocean depths near the Channel Islands 15 years ago, these small shellfish — from pencil-point- to almond-sized — are proof that captive breeding can work. Already, descendant abalone produced over three spawning seasons in affiliated science labs across the state are nearly equal in number to those believed to remain in the wild, where they are scattered so widely they no longer reproduce.
But with greater success in the lab each season, and a new round of spawning planned in early March, scientists in the program say they are just a few years away from beginning to test the survival of the young abalone out at sea, in hopes of eventually restoring some portion of the wild population.
“We may not bring it back anywhere close to what it was,” said Gary Cherr, director of the Bodega Marine Lab and principal investigator for the white abalone captive breeding program. “But if we can establish some self-sustaining populations up and down the coast … that would be a first. That would be really remarkable.”
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