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: More drones for science? Yes!

Science Drones from Antarctica to CA

Drones at a California Ranch. Credit: Point Blue.

Drones are fast becoming an important conservation tool. At Point Blue, we began using them to survey a colony of half a million penguins in Antarctica that we’ve been monitoring on foot since the early 1970s. That study is still active and proving to be successful in bringing a new perspective to our science work–as well as increased efficiency (surveys that used to take days now just take hours). More recently, we have begun exploring the ability of drones to assess and survey private working lands in partnership with landowners and Stanford scientists. So far we’ve successfully surveyed one Northern California ranch and we’re excited to build on this success. This advancement in science may enable Point Blue to measure the health and condition of grazing lands at unparalleled detail and scale. This is critical work since private rangelands represent a significant portion of wildlife habitat in California. According to a study from the late 1990s by the University of California Cooperative Extension from UC Davis about a fifth (20 million acres) of California’s land area is private rangelands. The partnerships we build with landowners and the innovative technology we use can help guide conservation actions, supporting healthy habitat for wildlife and providing essential benefits like clean air and water for human communities. All this while facilitating sustained livelihoods for farmers and ranchers as the climate changes.

Point Blue Data Helping Reduce Whale Deaths

Humpback Whale, pinnipeds, and gulls feeding off of the Farallon Islands. Credit: Point Blue.

This is a story of the power of long-term data to provide insight–and solutions–into challenges species face. After an increase in deadly incidences of whales entangled in crabbing gear in 2015-2018, we dug into our decades-long data set from the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge to see if we could find a cause. It turns out that we have observed increasingly more humpback, blue, and gray whales from our Farallon Island observation deck over the past 25 years–and we’re seeing them arrive earlier in the year as well. Unfortunately, when the whales arrive earlier, they overlap with the crab season, increasing their chances of getting tangled in fishing gear. This increase in detections and change in timing appears to be driven by El Niño, a warming of the sea at the equator that affects the oceans’ circulation patterns. To prevent entanglements, and in part due to Point Blue’s research, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has implemented new crab fishing regulations to decrease the risk to whales by timing the opening and closure of the fishery when whales are not present or they occur in low numbers. Read more in new peer-reviewed research led by Point Blue scientists published in PlosOne: publication brief or full publication.

A Buzz Phrase Defined

Point Blue Avian Ecologist doing a survey in the field. Credit: Point Blue.

Have you heard us or other conservation organizations use the term “multiple-benefits”? We’ll admit it, it sounds like jargon. But it’s important jargon and essential to finding lasting solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. Until now, the scientific and conservation communities didn’t have a shared definition of this increasingly common term. We recently released a perspective piece on this term in Society for Conservation Biology’s journal Conservation Science and Practice. We define “multiple-benefit conservation” as conservation efforts designed to simultaneously benefit local communities of people, enhance ecological function, and improve habitat quality for fish and wildlife. It’s a thoughtful, integrative, and inclusive approach that we sorely need now and into the future. Read more in our publication brief and the full publication.

Community Colleges: A Key Ingredient to Increasing Inclusivity in Conservation

2020 CCC Intern and 2021 STRAW Field Assistant Anh Cao planting at a STRAW restoration site. Credit: Point Blue.

We are now in our third year of running our Community College Conservation Internship (CCCI), an innovative program developed and led by Point Blue’s Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) Education Manager Alba Estrada López. Through the CCC Internship, Black, Indigenous, and other students of color explore environmental justice issues and career opportunities in conservation. By creating intentional space for community, CCCI aims to nurture BIPOC students’ sense of belonging within this field and their identity as environmentalists. As many of you are aware, there is a diversity, equity, and inclusivity problem in conservation–specifically and notably the lack of racial diversity in the historic and current predoninantly white environmental field–and Point Blue is taking active and holistic steps to address it. According to the Green 2.0 Report released in 2014 by Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor, people of color are 36% of the U.S. population, and comprise 29% of the science and engineering workforce but they do not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the 300 environmental institutions surveyed.

The CCC Internship is one step forward to increase racial diversity and diversity of perspectives in our organization and field. With 40 CCCI alumni, we aim to exemplify that BIPOC are not only interested in environmental issues but can provide leadership. This season, five of last year’s interns applied for and were hired on as Restoration Technicians in the STRAW program and are bringing valuable perspective to Point Blue’s conservation community and our restoration approach. We aim to continue to provide support and opportunities for students to forge their own career pathways. Learn more about this new internship by viewing our informational webinar.

News Bites

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration has Launched! The decade 2021-2030 has been designated by the United Nations as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and Point Blue is proud to support and contribute to this global wave of united energy to restore the planet’s damaged and degraded lands and waters. Read more here.

Birds of Different Feathers: Do They Still Flock Together? Former Point Blue Antarctica Program intern Parker Levinson noticed that there were some interesting feather color variations (speckled, all white, all black) in the Adelie Penguins we study at Cape Crozier and wondered if this affected their breeding success. Here’s what she found.

Fire and Ecosystem Recovery. Read a recent article from the Point Reyes Light in which Point Blue’s Diana Humple shares insights on ecosystem recovery after last year’s Woodward Fire.

Farming California’s Delta With Nature In Mind. Listen to this Blue Dot podcast episode where Point Blue’s Dr. Kristy Dybala, along with our Nature Conservancy and agricultural partners, chats with Dave Schlom about how the needs of humans and wildlife can be met with benefit to all in California’s Delta region.


Find recordings of our past events on our events page.

Live from the Lab: Pyrosomes and Other Ocean Indicators. Wednesday, July 21st, 2021, 11:30am. Join Point Blue Marine Lab Research Assistants Joycelyn Ho and Diana Alvarado to explore samples from our most recent ACCESS marine research cruise. Teaser: there are pyrosomes aka sea pickles. Find information and RSVP here.
photo: Pyrosome on the Farallon islands. Credit: Rhett Finley, former Farallon Volunteer Biologist.

Live from Palomarin: It’s Fledgling Season! Friday, July 23rd, 2021, 8:30-9:15am. It’s the most awkward and vulnerable time of year for songbirds: fledgling season! It’s also one of the most crucial times for bird population survival. Join us virtually as we broadcast from our Palomarin Field Station at the southern end of the Point Reyes National Seashore to observe live bird banding, learn about environmental conservation, and explore this funny/not funny time of the year! Find information and RSVP here.
Photo: Robin fledgling. Credit: Denise Rosser, Flickr Commons.

Career Pathways: Spotlight on Doris Duke Conservation Scholars. Thursday, July 29th, 1pm. Interested in conservation career pathways? Join our current Doris Duke Conservation Scholars, Nina Escuerdo and Juliemar Cuevas-Hernandez, as they share their journeys and answer your questions on Instagram Live. Learn more here.


Save the Date! The 43rd annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon is only a few months away! During the period of September 15–October 15, 2021, create or join a team or individually count as many species of birds as you can identify, either by sight or sound in any location for up to 24 consecutive hours. Proceeds benefit Point Blue Conservation Science. Stay tuned for more details on gatherings for Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon participants and counters throughout the month.
Photo: 2016 STRAW Bird-a-Thon Team. Credit: Point Blue.