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: Carbon Storage, Biodiversity, Creek Restoration, and more!

Staggering Results

Shorebirds over flooded agriculture. Credit: Monica Iglesia.

A recent study led by Point Blue Ecologist Kristin Sesser shows that collaborative, science-driven approaches provide a sustainable path forward in a time when water is becoming a more challenging resource to manage. A practice of staggering surface water removal on rice crops after flooding them for the winter is helping waterbird species such as Dunlin and Northern Pintail. This practice, known as variable drawdown, provides habitat later into the winter than traditional drawdown timing, and provides shallow water habitat in a time of great need. Agriculture has replaced much of the historic wetland habitat in California’s Central Valley, where the study was conducted. Thanks to partnerships between farmers, agencies, and nonprofits like Point Blue, practices such as variable drawdown are helping to create substitute wetland habitat on agricultural fields while they are not growing crops.

In Forest Restoration, Design Matters

Mature forest in the Cosumnes River Preserve (left). Credit: Robert G. Walsh/Point Blue. Former agricultural fields now undergoing forest restoration (right). Credit: Mark Dettling/Point Blue.

Restoring forests has become a world-wide strategy for simultaneously addressing the challenges of climate change and conserving biodiversity. In a new study led by Dr. Kristen Dybala, scientists at Point Blue and UC Davis assessed how successful creek and river-side forest restoration efforts were at storing carbon and increasing bird diversity in California’s Central Valley. Key among the findings was that focusing restoration only on carbon storage may come at the expense of biodiversity, but there are ways to optimize for both. Read more in our recent press release.


The Future of Walker Creek

STRAW staff planting at Walker Creek in 2016. Credit: Point Blue.

Walker Creek in western Marin County originates at the confluence of Salmon Creek and Arroyo Sausal and empties into Tomales Bay. As a result of impaired water quality and habitat loss, the Walker Creek watershed was viewed as a lost cause in the 1980s, but due to collaborative conservation it is now a target for Coho salmon reintroduction. This recovery is thanks to the long-term partnership between Point Blue’s Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed program, the Marin Resource Conservation District, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Natural Resources Conservation Service, UC Cooperative Extension, and Prunuske Chatham. To date over 50% of the landowners in the watershed have participated in programs to improve the watershed’s health, including dozens of Point Blue restoration projects. Point Blue restoration leaders, John Parodi and Isaiah Thalmayer, recently participated in and presented at a “Walker Creek 2.0” workshop where they toured past successful projects and discussed ways climate-smart restoration can make the watershed more resilient to the consequences of climate change for wildlife and agriculture.

New Book on the Changing Abundance and Distribution of Western Birds
Point Blue scientist Dave Shuford, in collaboration with Western Field Ornithologists, conceived, co-edited, and contributed to an important new publication, Trends and Traditions: Avifaunal Change in Western North America. The book documents and synthesizes the patterns, rates, and causes of changes in status of birds in this region. Tracking these changes is crucial for their conservation, particularly in a time of rapid climate change, expanding human population, and accelerated resource extraction. Three of the twenty-five papers featured in the book were led by Point Blue staff. Pick up a copy today and learn about the status of the rich avifauna of western North America in an ever-changing world.


Gratitude and Inspiration. Thanks to all of our friends and partners who helped honor and thank Ellie Cohen, our CEO of 20 years, at our celebration on October 20th. Please check out the recent article about the event and Ellie’s time at Point Blue from The Point Reyes Light and read Ellie’s write-up with links to photos and videos.

Discover Alaska. Saturday, May 18th – Saturday, May 25th, 2019. Explore Alaska’s coastal wilderness with Point Blue scientists as guides aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion.

News Bites

Restoration with Nez Perce Tribe. Next year we’ll be co-leading climate-smart restoration workshops in partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe, the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, and the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center and funded by the
and Bureau of Indian Affairs in Idaho.

Restoring Sierra Meadows with STRAW. Our second round of Sierra Meadow STRAW restorations happened this month! Our team led 130 students from 3 schools to plant over 800 willows at the headwaters of the Feather River in Lassen County.

It’s Penguin Season. The Adelie penguins returned from the sea to their nesting colonies and our biologists arrived at our Cape Crozier study site on the Ross Sea, Antarctica for the 22nd continuous field season. Read a recent article from The Wall Street Journal on the big picture.

Innovation Funded. We’re excited to share that we’ve recently received significant support from prominent sources for four of our innovative science efforts.

  • NASA funded a project to investigate the relationships between Adelie Penguin migration patterns, changing sea ice, and the boundaries of the new Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area using geolocator tags and satellite data.
  • We received California Ocean Protection Council funding to expand sea level rise planning support through Our Coast Our Future.
  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has pledged support for our work to decrease whale deaths from ship strike and prioritize ocean conservation.
  • Resources Legacy Fund has funded a series of workshops aimed at making stream restorations more resilient to climate change.

All this thanks to the work of these passionate lead staff, respectively: Geographic Information Specialist Specialist Dennis Jongsomjit; Informatics team and Coastal Adaptation Program leader Maya Hayden; Senior Marine Ecologist Cotton Rockwood and Senior Scientist Meredith Elliott; and Education and Outreach Director Melissa Pitkin and Pacific Coast and Central Valley Director Tom Gardali.


Scientist Spotlight: Kristin Sesser, Avian Ecologist

Kristin started her work with Point Blue in conjunction with her M.S. thesis at Humboldt State University, examining space use and habitat selection of Long-billed Curlews using satellite telemetry in California’s Central Valley. In 2011 she joined Point Blue as staff to help conduct studies evaluating waterbird response to post-harvest rice management in the Sacramento Valley. Today, Kristin leads the Wildlife-friendly Working Lands Initiative of the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership where Point Blue works alongside our incredible partners at Audubon California and The Nature Conservancy. We asked what her favorite parts of her job are, what she’s most proud of so far, and what she’s looking forward to. Here’s what she said:

“What is most satisfying is the recognition that ‘we did it!’ By we, I mean Point Blue and many partners including the rice farmers themselves. By ‘it,’ I mean we found ways to make water and rice work for a diverse set of waterbirds AND people. Further, our collective work has created a path for others to follow. For example, a new partnership is starting to innovate ways water and rice can work for endangered fish in this system, too. What is so refreshing, is the optimism amongst this group—they know it is going to be hard work but they’ve seen it work before with birds and they know they can find a way. And I know staff from Point Blue were part of creating the bridge others will now be walking across.”