The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center on Stearns Wharf recently unveiled its newest installation, "Saving the White Abalone," that highlights the conservation work being done to bring the local species back from the brink of extinction.
The new display will educate the public by raising awareness of white abalones' endangered status and explain how human activities can harm — and help — the species.
According to the Sea Center, where there were once millions, only several thousand white abalone remain.
In 2001 due to overharvesting by humans, white abalone became the first marine invertebrates to be listed as endangered in the United States.
As a member of the White Abalone Restoration Consortium (WARC) for the past 13 years, the Sea Center has been part of coordinated induced spawning events, aiming to increase the number of white abalone in captivity and release them in large numbers back into their native habitat.
Following several successes, in 2014 the Sea Center received a cohort of young snails to rear, the progeny of captive snails.
The Sea Center says that if all goes to plan, it will soon host a third generation of microscopic white abalone larvae, raised in trough enclosures like those used by commercial abalone farmers.
This most recent addition gives the Sea Center a unique opportunity to illustrate the abalone life cycle and explain conservation efforts to the public.
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According to the Sea Center, fostering genetic diversity among a dwindling population is a major challenge for the WARC, which has a limited number of animals to crossbreed due to the rarity of the species and restrictions on collecting wild animals, even for conservation purposes.
The abalone larvae in the Sea Center’s new installation are the result of a cross between a wild female that conservationists were recently permitted to collect and a captive-bred male.
The installation can be viewed on the second floor of the Sea Center daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, visit sbnature.org/seacenter.
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Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.
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