Only found in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California and Baja California, the white abalone is a rare species of sea snail that has almost become extinct. The snails have colorful shells and can grow to a size of 10 inches and almost two pounds. Their diet consists of algae and kelp. Feeding on kelp is beneficial for the ocean ecosystem because it keeps the kelp population in check and allows for a variety of kelp species to survive rather than one type to dominate. White abalone have been a human food source for thousands of years. Unfortunately for the species, white abalone is considered to be the tastiest, most tender variety of abalone. After sampling sautéed white abalone, renowned French cookbook author Simone Beck declared it to be “like the veal of the sea.” The most intense harvesting occurred in the 1970s and by the 1990s, white abalone had almost been wiped out. Commercial fishing was closed in 1997 and remains so to this day, but white abalone numbers continued to dwindle and only about 1% of the species’ historical population remains.
The snails must overcome multiple threats before a successful recovery can occur. One issue is illegal poaching. There are reports of a white abalone dinner priced at around $450 in Hong Kong. Largely considered to be the chief issue is the critically low numbers of remaining white abalone in the ocean, which hinders reproduction. The species procreates by a method called broadcast spawning, meaning the eggs and sperm are released into the ocean. This form of breeding requires an abundant population of white abalone living in close proximity to one another to greaten the chances of successful fertilization, which has not been the case over the past couple decades.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a United States government agency that is spearheading the effort to recover white abalone. To accomplish its mission, NOAA’s recovery plan has three primary aspects: working with its partner organizations on a captive breeding program, tracking the wild population with its partners by means of remote controlled underwater vehicles and scuba divers, as well as public education. The Aquarium of the Pacific is an original partner of NOAA within the recovery program. The aquarium has been one of the program’s key contributors and uses its facility to breed thousands of white abalone for eventual release. Additionally, the aquarium has conducted field research to determine the most suitable locations on the seabed to place the human-reared abalone. The first captive bred white abalone were released into the wild in 2019 and divers from the Aquarium of the Pacific and NOAA assisted with the process. The team will continue to monitor these abalone to determine if they are living successfully in the wild or if adjustments will need to be made to the recovery plan.
Honda is committed to the protection of costal ecosystems and supports marine conservation projects by providing grants and sponsorships. The company was a founding sponsor of the Aquarium of the Pacific and remains to be a key backer to this day. On top of this support, Honda has been continuously working to make their vehicles more eco-friendly. The auto manufacturer has a few hybrid (i.e. a vehicle powered by both gas and a battery) models within its lineup. Many people are already aware of the gas saving benefits of hybrids – for example, the 2021 Honda Insight hybrid gets a combined 52 miles per gallon of gas according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Building better cars for the environment also means being responsible with the parts used to manufacture the car, which Honda has been doing. For instance, the company has been an industry leader when it comes to minimizing the use of PVCs in its vehicles’ interiors, and the Insight has a PVC-free interior. Car companies use PVCs because it is an inexpensive plastic that can be made to mimic leather. However, the material off-gases Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), a chemical linked to air pollution and health issues such as cancer. In addition to its ecological benefits, the Insight has been applauded for its styling and the car passes muster with drivers. Car and Driver remarks, “It is quiet, comfortable, and refined, and it handles confidently.”
Honda continues to make great strides when it comes to environmentalism. White abalone and the Aquarium of the Pacific are two beneficiaries of the company’s efforts.
Additional Reading: Axalta is also working to minimize the off-gassing of VOCs
White Abalone – noaa.gov
White Abalone: Why You Should Care About This Critter – noaa.gov
Saving the White Abalone is Part of a Much Bigger Story – californiascienceweekly.com
Food For Thought; Pan Fried to Extinction – sierraclub.org
Abalone Makes a Fine Feast for a Famous Author – sfgate.com
Aquarium and Partners to Release Endangered White Abalone for the First Time in History – aquariumofpacific.org
White Abalone Conservation Live Virtual Lecture – aquariumofpacific.org
Gas Mileage of 2021 Honda Insight – fueleconomy.gov
Marine Science Foundation – honda.com
2019 North American Environmental Report – honda.com
Auto trends point to growth for PVC – plasticnews.com
Beware the Hazardous Materials Lurking in Your Car – wired.com
2021 Honda Insight – caranddriver.com
Photo of white abalone by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Honda Insight by Ghostofakina on Wikimedia Commons