Students' summer plans: researching native abalone
Student scientists Anne Benolkin, left, and Annie Thomson hold an abalone shell. Thomson and Benolkin are participants in summer undergraduate research programs at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, helping to measure the survival and growth of 1,200 juvenile abalone raised in a hatchery and out-planted in Skagit County marine waters two to four years ago. Photo by Paul Dinnel | WWU
Student scientists Annie Thomson and Anne Benolkin are working to measure the survival and growth of 1,200 juvenile abalone raised in a hatchery by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and out-planted in Skagit County marine waters two to four years ago.
Both Thomson and Benolkin are participants in summer undergraduate research programs at Western Washington University’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes.
In 1998, WDFW determined that abalone populations had fallen so low that this once abundant animal would disappear from Washington waters without intervention. Since male and female abalone individually spawn their sperm and eggs into the water, successful egg fertilization is difficult when remaining individuals are spaced too far apart. Last year, scientists found that abalone densities in some out-plant sites were sufficient for successful spawning, assuming continued good survival and growth.
“After surviving two to four years in the wild on their own, we are finding the juvenile out-planted abalone have, on average, tripled in size. It’s exciting to see the abalone mature, but only time will tell if they will remain in densities high enough to spawn successfully” said Thomson.
Thomson and Benolkin’s work is part of a much larger collaboration among WWU’s Shannon Point Marine Center, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, University of Washington and WDFW to eventually return numbers of this native gastropod to levels that will sustain recreational and tribal harvests.
“We are hoping to establish sites with densities greater than one abalone per six square meters (the minimum density required for successful egg fertilization). If we can accomplish this at these sites and others, then, through natural reproduction, the total number of abalone should continue to increase” Benolkin said.
One success this project has already demonstrated is the ability of different organizations with limited resources to work together to accomplish a greater goal. Both Thomson and Benolkin are participants in the SPMC summer undergraduate research program. One of 11 students from around the nation participating in the program in 2012, Thomson, from Burien and a student in Oceanography from the University of Washington, is the recipient of a scientific diving summer internship co-supported by the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, and Shannon Point Marine Center. Benolkin, from Eagle River, Alaska, and a student from the University of Alaska Southeast, was awarded a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates internship working with Shannon Point scientist Paul Dinnel.
The Shannon Point Marine Center’s mission is to support and promote marine science academic programs at WWU, develop new information about local marine environments, train the next generation of marine scientists, and provide public education events.
Photos and more information about Thomson’s internship are online. Information about the abalone restoration project can be found at the Puget Sound Restoration Fund website.