Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, January 13, 2009

Contact: Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304

Black Abalone Protected as an Endangered Species
California Marine Species Threatened by Overharvesting, Disease,
Global Warming, and Ocean Acidification

SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government today designated the black abalone as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The action comes in response to a formal administrative petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in December 2006, which sought protection of the species. The black abalone — an intertidal mollusk historically ranging from near the California/Oregon border to Cape San Lucas, Baja California — has declined by as much as 99 percent in most of its range.

Once occurring at densities of up to 120 per square meter, the black abalone was among the most common and visible invertebrates in Southern California tidepools. But the species has now virtually disappeared from the Southern California mainland and from many areas of the Channel Islands where it was once most abundant.

“The plight of the black abalone speaks volumes about the way we treat our oceans,” said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The combined effects of overfishing, disease, global warming, and ocean acidification have pushed this animal to the brink of extinction.”

The primary drivers of the decline of black abalone are commercial fishing, which severely depleted most populations, followed by the outbreak and spread of a disease known as withering syndrome, which has devastated remaining populations in the Channel Islands and Southern California and is continuing to spread northward through the remaining range of the species.

While fishing of black abalone is now banned in California, withering syndrome has yet to be controlled and remains a dire threat to the continued existence of the species. Because the disease is more virulent in warm water, as the sea temperatures off California rise in the face of global warming, the deadly symptoms of withering syndrome are likely to spread to currently unaffected abalone in the northern portion of the species’ range.

Ocean acidification — the lowering of the pH of seawater as a result of the absorption of excess CO2 in the atmosphere — also poses a growing threat to the species. California’s waters are growing more acidic at an alarming rate, and unless CO2 emissions are dramatically curtailed, the ability of the black abalone and other shelled marine species to build their protective shells will be impaired.

“The black abalone is positioned to be the first of California’s marine species to be driven extinct by our thirst for fossil fuels,” said Cummings. “Unless we quickly address global warming and ocean acidification, we will lose not just the black abalone, but also salmon and sea otters and the very fabric of California’s ocean ecosystem.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act for marine species, must now designate critical habitat for the black abalone and convene a recovery team to develop a plan to protect the species.

The black abalone joins the white abalone and elkhorn and stag­horn corals as the only marine invertebrates protected by the Endangered Species Act. Each of the species has achieved legal protection following Center for Biological Diversity petitions.

More information on the black abalone petition is available at

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s finding, issued today, is available at

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

# # #

Go back