Restored Kelp Forests Provide a Home for Recovering Abalone Species

The SEA Lab staff measure a green abalone juvenile.

We are seeing more kelp off the coast of Palos Verdes (PV), California, these days thanks to the urchin removal project that started in July 2013. Since this project started, The Bay Foundation and other partners have removed over 3 million urchins from “urchin barrens” to allow for the regrowth of the Palos Verdes kelp forest. In places where there once was no kelp, we are seeing kelp fronds measuring over 25 ft. in length—a sure sign that the project is working.

Biologists are now preparing to place green abalone, raised at The SEA Lab in Redondo Beach, into the newly restored kelp forest areas in PV. The work will take place this May 2015 when NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, and The Bay Foundation will partner together to coordinate staff and volunteers to transport veliger (microscopic) and juvenile (30-80 mm in length) green abalone from the shore to the ocean. The outplanted abalone will have specific genetic markers that will allow for identification of individuals making it easier to track their survival rates. This is the first time biologists are attempting to outplant green abalone in the southern California marine ecosystem.

The reintroduction of abalone into the restored areas will be beneficial for two reasons. The abalone will actually help keep urchin numbers down in the future because they compete with urchins for food and space. This outplanting effort is also the next step in helping to recover abalone species on the west coast.

Biologists collect green abalone from the field to test a new deck-spawning technique.

All abalone species have seen a dramatic reduction in numbers in the past 50 years due to over-harvesting by humans as well as the emergence of a fatal disease called Withering Syndrome. The purpose of this outplanting program is to help increase population numbers of green abalone and develop successful outplanting techniques that can be used for recovery efforts of the federally endangered white abalone.

MSRP and partners will have restored over 100 acres of kelp forest habitat in PV when this project is completed. Healthy kelp forests provide a home for many fish and invertebrate species that benefit the marine ecosystem and provide a boost to local economies by supporting recreational activities such as fishing, SCUBA diving, and kayaking.

Stay tuned to learn more about this project and to follow the success of the green abalone restoration program!


-Gabrielle Dorr/Stephanie King