Abalone Die-Off on the Sonoma Coast

While at Fort Ross, I considered taking the path from the parking lot down to the sea. The coast is beautiful and rocky, and I thought I'd see a lot of wonderful stuff at the bottom of the cliff.  However, as soon as I got on the path, I saw abalone which had been brought up by visitors.  This is illegal, whether the animals are alive or not, since the coast here is a marine protected area.

I talked to one of the rangers about the abalone on the trail, so they could be picked up.  That's when I heard about the abalone die-off along the coast.

I'd known that the abalone had been having a rough time, and that there was competition with purple urchin, but I didn't fully appreciate the scope of the problem until learning about this.  The North Coast Journal refers to a "perfect storm" of environmental problems which threaten the abalone: the El Nino event, sea star wasting disease,  the purple urchin population boom, the harmful algae bloom... it all has resulted in the loss of the kelp which the abalone feed on, leaving them to die of starvation.  These are red abalone, and are thus far not endangered, as are other species of abalone. 

White abalone is highly endangered, and spawning and raising white abalone in the hopes of repopulating has been the mission of some of the marine facilities along the coast.  If the problems (which are triggered by climate change) continue, then it's doubtful that the animals will be able to survive in the changing environment.  It may well be that we're looking at a time in the near future when these animals only survive in aquariums and other conservation facilities.