Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: Bringing Palomarin Data to Life…and so much more

The Long Haul: COVID, Equity, and Fire

The Palomarin interns (Mary, Bernarda, Brandon, Oliver, and Caroline) at their evacuation location – Point Blue’s Stallcup House in Petaluma. COVID-19 NOTE: interns act as a family unit, hence the lack of physical distancing; masks worn here are because of the presence of the person taking this photograph. Photo by Diana Humple / Point Blue

As we pass the six-month mark from when California first started sheltering in place, Point Blue’s facilities remain closed to the public. Most staff are working from home exclusively. Many of our field crews–Palomarin, Marine Lab, Farallones, STRAW–continue to live and work as “family units,” conducting the important scientific monitoring that allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of the ecosystems we all depend upon. We are grateful for our stellar Finance and Administrative team that is actively implementing measures to maintain Point Blue’s financial resilience and connecting staff with resources to help everyone navigate the many challenges this time is bringing. With the recent fires on top of everything else, cultivating resilience both personally and ecologically has never felt so important! It’s hard not being able to socialize and bounce ideas off of each other in person, but we are putting our creative, hopeful superpowers to work during this tough time. We hope you are finding safe ways to stay connected with your colleagues and loved ones, and with the natural world.

Through this unprecedented time, we have stayed focused on making our organization more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We recently hired another RAY Conservation Fellow, Celida Moran, to our STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed) program in the South San Francisco Bay. Celida will be working closely with the STRAW team to improve and increase ways in which we include Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color in the conservation work we do. In addition to hiring Celida, we also reformed our intern program compensation structure so that all interns now receive minimum wage instead of a small stipend. We hope this will make our internships more accessible to more people by providing a living wage on top of housing and world-class conservation science training, and we thank a very generous anonymous donor for providing the initial funding to make this possible.

In the coming months we’ll be ramping up opportunities for you to stay connected with us through live virtual events. Keep an eye on our events page and our social media channels (Facebook and Instagram).

What a year! Be well, stay safe, and hang in there.

Special note: You may have seen our social media posts on Facebook and Instagram and stories on ABC 7 and in Bay Nature Magazine about us evacuating our Palomarin interns and preparing to evacuate our high priority data if needed. We appreciate all of your supportive responses. We’re excited to report that our interns and data have just recently returned to the field station as the fire has been further contained. Here is the latest about the Palomarin Field Station from Diana Humple on our Palomarin Blog.

Photo: Palomarin Interns temporarily sheltering at our Rich Stallcup Intern House in Petaluma due to the Woodward fire. Credit: Diana Humple.

Explore Palomarin Data

We’ve created a new way to learn from the data collected at our Palomarin Field Station, in Bolinas, CA: “The Palomarin Field Station Data Explorer.” The Data Explorer is a window into the data we’ve been collecting at Palomarin for decades–in some cases, over 50 years. It’s composed of a set of interactive web pages, each of which tells one of the most important science stories emerging from our long-term research, and how each of these connect to some of the biggest conservation challenges around the world: How are the birds doing? Where do migratory birds go? What are the impacts of climate change and habitat change? Through these interactive data stories, you can see how the weather at Palomarin hasn’t changed too much since 1979, but we are already seeing impacts of climate change on the arrival times of migratory species: Golden-crowned Sparrows are arriving much earlier than they used to. You can also check out our map showing where our migratory species go when they leave Palomarin. We’ve learned that our field station truly is a crossroads for birds traveling along the west coast of North America – from as far as Bristol Bay, Alaska and Jalisco, Mexico. Start exploring!

Photo: screenshot from the Palomarin Data Explorer.

The Next Phase of South Bay Salt Pond Restoration

In 2003 over 15,000 acres of salt ponds, those brightly colored ponds visible when flying over the South Bay, formerly owned by the Cargill Salt Company, were acquired for habitat restoration. This ambitious project is the largest wetland restoration project on the West Coast. A team of scientists and managers now led by Donna Ball of San Francisco Estuary Institute have been creating and implementing plans to restore the area to a mix of wetland habitats, such as tidal marsh, mudflats, and seasonal ponds. Point Blue has been part of the team from the beginning, helping write the original restoration plan, serving on technical advisory committees, and collecting data and publishing results on how to best restore habitats for birds. So far, as a result of this collaborative effort, over 3,700 acres of tidal wetlands have been restored and enhanced for wildlife. Point Blue recently led the update of the project’s science framework building on lessons learned and ensuring that the next decade of research and monitoring directly informs restoration and management and considers escalating climate impacts and other environmental stressors. Learn more at the South Bay Salt Pond web page.

Photo: Cover of the updated framework led by Point Blue.

Less Effort, Better Results?

In 1993, the Pacific Coast population of western snowy plovers was listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the federal Endangered Species Act and is listed as a “species of special concern” by the State of California. This bird, about the size of an orange and the color of fog, is forced to share its sandy beach habitat with humans. Because human impacts often threaten the survival and breeding success of plovers, coastal conservationists must work on managing these conflicts. Point Blue scientists have been gathering critical data on plover populations since 1984 and working with agency and non-profit partners to protect plover habitat. Recently our coastal scientists published a peer-reviewed paper to help improve the way in which we measure how successful plovers are at raising young each year. Methods matter, especially when a species’ survival is on the line. Monitoring of reproductive success for the plover has been time-consuming, expensive, and potentially disruptive to the plovers themselves. Point Blue’s new study examines ways to maintain or increase accuracy with reduced effort. The results provide estimates of how well each sampling scheme performs, which will help managers of this threatened shorebird improve monitoring. Learn more about the study by reading our publication brief.

Photo: Western snowy plover chicks. Credit: Jenny Erbes.

News Bites

Not What We Expected. The theme for the new issue of the Point Blue Quarterly is Tales of the Unexpected. The nature of conservation science lends itself to both unexpected discoveries in complex datasets and unexpected experiences in the field. But in March of 2020, we all experienced something unexpected when COVID-19 spread around the world, disrupting our lives. We knew this was the right time to dedicate an issue to responding to change and unexpected developments. Read it here.

Migratory Shorebird Project Data at Work. Shorebird count data from the 13-country Migratory Shorebird Project was recently used to nominate the first wetland site in El Salvador to be part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Read more about MSP data in action in Central and South America in this excellent article by our collaborator Salvadora Morales.

Let’s Grow Together! Point Blue recently teamed up with woman-owned, San Francisco-based Grow Marketing along with fellow non-profits The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public land, the Surfrider Foundation, Outdoor Afro, and Big City Mountaineers to amp up our connection with nature and support the key players who help protect it. Visit to find out how you can join the effort and access junior field guides designed for 2-5 year olds.

Under Our Feet: Partnerships for Healthy Soils. In Point Blue’s Working Lands program, we use science and partnerships to make sure California’s agricultural lands are providing as much benefit as possible to the communities and wildlife that depend on them. Watch this video to see one example of the power of these partnerships.


42nd annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon. September 15 – October 15. Identify and record as many bird species as you can, either by sight or sound during this time period and have your friends, family, and community members sponsor you to benefit Point Blue Conservation Science. Visit to register or donate today!


In the Field Live: Tracking Bird Migration at Palomarin: Where do the birds go? Wednesday, September 9, 8:30-9:15 am on Facebook Live. Join Point Blue Avian Ecologist Hilary Allen and Palomarin interns to learn how and why we track songbird migration. Visit our Facebook event page to RSVP.


Online Birding with Marin Audubon: Shorebird Surveys With a Point Blue Biologist. Wednesday, September 30th, 7 – 8:30PM. This is one of a four-part, free online series on shorebirds that Marin Audubon is hosting this fall. See the full schedule here. Join Point Blue’s Mark Dettling to learn about the purpose of the Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey and Migratory Shorebird Project, how the birds are counted, some results from past years, and how to get involved. Learn more about Point Blue’s shorelines work here. Register for the event here.

Scientist Spotlight: Amanda Spears, Farallon Biologist

After studying landbirds in several habitats around the country, Amanda came to Point Blue as a Farallon Program volunteer researcher in 2018. She fell in love with seabirds and the California coast and was invited back in early 2020 to be one of our summer season biologists. Amanda is the first female full time biologist to be hired on the Farallones in over a decade.

We asked Amanda how she sees her role in balancing out gender visibility in seabird biology. Here’s what she said:

“As a biologist I am excited to be returning to the Farallons and, as a woman, it is particularly special to be returning as a leader. Women still are underrepresented in the sciences, especially the higher one goes up in rank. I believe one of the most meaningful ways to encourage young women to enter and stay in the field is to increase visibility of strong women in leadership roles. Appreciating women’s abilities and unique perspectives will allow us to address big, complex issues like climate change in a holistic manner. I hope to foster a respect for the diversity of our planet and of our societies by encouraging young women to pursue their passions to the fullest extent. We need more women as leaders to effect systematic change if we want to see true gender equality in the ecological sciences. Small steps forward will ultimately lead to bigger change.”