Saving Abalones, One Intern at a Time

Stephanie Thara


Sonoma State University undergraduate student Athena Maguire surveying red abalone, DFG Abalone Research Internship Summer 2011

Sonoma State University undergraduate student Athena Maguire surveying red abalone, DFG Abalone Research Internship Summer 2011

As a response to the increasingly low red abalone population on the North Coast, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently implemented new abalone fishery regulations. CSU students played a vital role in helping put the regulations in place by serving as research interns for the CDFW. Through the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST) program, several  students were chosen to work with the CDFW and learned how to scuba dive and operate boats so they could conduct abalone density surveys .

During the internships, students had the opportunity to be trained as scientific divers, master divers and California Digital Object Identifier System Operators, which helped them become directly involved in dive surveys. Students also learned how to properly sterilize a containment zone, extract and measure nutrients and control water flow for abalone research.

“During these surveys, I was able to record abalone densities from before, during and after the harmful algal bloom,” said Athena Maguire, a former Sonoma State student who served as a CDFW intern in 2011. “This data directly influenced the recommendations made by my department, as it showed the decline in abalone populations.”

Interns worked closely with scientists who specialized in everything from biology to environmental science to help formulate the new regulations. The summer-long internships provided students with the opportunity to network with seasoned professionals, learn valuable skills that can be applied to their field of interest and develop a toolbox of knowledge that could lead them to success in scientific research.

“I got to meet a broad range of scientists that dealt with different types of conservation and restoration efforts,” said Kevin Bierlich, a Sonoma State senior majoring in Biology and a 2012 CDFW intern. “I learned a lot from them and they still help guide me in which direction I should go. I know that I can turn to any one of them for advice.”

Additionally, students built relationships with the organizations involved in the project, which subsequently opened the door to a wide range of career opportunities. After Maguire completed her internship, the CDFW offered her a position. Since then, she has given talks on her findings to the public and law enforcement, become a department diver and dive master, published work on abalone parasites and will be helping revise the CDFW’s Abalone Management Plan to strengthen its scientific methods.

“I had no ties with Fish and Wildlife before my COAST internship,” said Maguire. “I owe the program my sincere gratitude for the direction and fulfillment it has provided me.”