Featured mission: Transporting endangered white abalone
LightHawk volunteer pilot Michiko Saylor at the controls of her Vans RV10 during a mission to transport endangered white abalone from the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab to the city of Santa Rosa, California. Photo by Michiko Saylor.
On a sunny morning in late January, volunteer pilot Michiko Saylor flew her Vans RV10 north to meet the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab partners outside of the city of Santa Rosa, California. As a new volunteer pilot, this was Michiko's first mission with LightHawk and her first with passengers. Hundreds of juvenile endangered white abalone destined for the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and ultimately their rocky reef homes off the coast of San Diego County joined Michiko for the flight.
Because captive-bred juvenile abalone are transported in sealed bags filled with oxygen, Michiko monitored a sealed bag on her trip north to determine the highest altitude she could fly while minimizing the expansion of the bag. Based on her observations, the Bodega Marine Lab determined a little flexibility was needed and reduced the oxygen levels in each bag by a third. This was a great example of teamwork between partners and pilots, working to make endangered species transports safer and more efficient for both the species and the pilot!
Michiko successfully delivered her many passengers to NOAA scientists in San Diego who continue to care for them until their release off the Southern California coast later this year.
Alyssa Frederick, Director of the White Abalone Captive Breeding Program, helps pilot Mitzi load a cooler of Endangered White Abalone into her plane. Credit: Nora Frank
White abalone are one of seven species of abalone that occur off the West Coast of North America. Abalone are plant-eating marine gastropods (similar to snails and slugs) that live on rocky parts of the sea floor. White abalone are long-lived, with a life span up to 40 years, and were once plentiful along the coasts of California and Baja California, Mexico. Of the seven species of abalone, white abalone are the closest to extinction. The onset of the population decline is largely attributed to an intense commercial fishery that briefly occurred prior to the 1980s. All abalone fisheries have been closed since 1997 but unfortunately the
white abalone populations have been slow to recover.
In 2001, white abalone were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They were the first marine invertebrate to be added to the list. Since then, white abalone have become one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight — an agency initiative that includes animals considered most at risk for extinction and prioritizes their recovery efforts.
The abalone were all snug and secure in the back of the plane. Credit: Michiko Saylor
Under the NOAA Fisheries' White Abalone Recovery Plan, the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab has played a vital role in recovery efforts by implementing a successful captive breeding program that produces millions of white abalone every year. Thousands of these abalone are transported to partner facilities throughout California that raise and care for the animals until they're at a stage of development where they can be outplanted back into their rocky reef habitats. Around 10,000 white abalone are released off the coast of Los Angeles and San Diego counties every year.
Over the years, LightHawk volunteer pilots have contributed to the recovery efforts by transporting thousands of white abalone between partner facilities, dramatically reducing the stress this environmentally sensitive species would experience with more traditional methods such as overnight shipping or many hours of driving. LightHawk volunteer pilots are contributing to an increase in the efficiency and effectiveness of this recovery program.
Pilot Mitzi is ready for takeoff with her cargo of endangered white abalone. Credit: Nora Frank
It has been stated on some of these LightHawk flights that there are more white abalone in the air than there are in the sea. We are working towards a day when that is no longer the case.
A huge thank you to Michiko for her first successful transport, and to all of the volunteer pilots on Team White Abalone, working to recover this endangered species.
LightHawk Photo of the Month
Photo by Ken Newbury
This month's photo is from a flight with LightHawk partner Pinnacles National Park. The flight had two goals. First, to attempt to locate a missing California condor and second, to identify the nesting site of a female condor. The photo was captured by LightHawk volunteer pilot Ken Newbury over the Big Sur coastline.
A LightHawk Story
Romeo November: A LightHawk Story shares the story of one volunteer pilot and his dedication to the cause of conservation as he takes to the skies to tour three conservation projects with LigthHawk partners. View now by clicking the image above or on LightHawk's YouTube channel, Facebook page or website.
Support LightHawk and make conservation fly!
LightHawk's mission is as important today as it has ever been. Working with partners across the country, we're bringing the gift of aviation to conservation issues. Thanks to LightHawk and its community of volunteer pilots, our conservation partners are able to accomplish more, in less time - preserving important resources. Your gift lifts our wings and brings success to projects sooner. You can make conservation fly!
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