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: Science to Lift Your Spirits

A Foundational Moment

Long-billed Curlew and Sanderling. Credit: Laird Henkel.

While there have been many challenges this year, 2020 represents a significant milestone for shorebird conservation science at Point Blue. Last month the foundational paper from our internationally collaborative Migratory Shorebird Project was published in Avian Conservation and Ecology. Our new paper validates the methodology and partnership network we have developed over the past ten years to effectively monitor shorebirds and conserve their habitat from Alaska to Chile. As well, 2020 marks the year that the 13th and final country—Guatemala—on the Pacific Coast of the Americas joined this incredibly ambitious, large-scale, multinational, partner-driven conservation science program. Read more from Point Blue Shorebird Ecologists, Catherine Hickey and Matt Reiter in a fantastic recent blog post that traces the history of this international program back to its roots in the Bolinas Lagoon and estuaries in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Restoration Going Strong in the Sierra

Point Blue Scientists Alissa Fogg and Marian Vernon visiting a Northern Sierra Point Blue restoration site. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.

We’ve got great news to share about our climate-smart restoration efforts in the Sierra Nevada. First, we published a recent paper in the journal Restoration Ecology showing that restoring how water flows through Sierra meadows by placing earthen plugs into eroded stream channels has a positive impact on a significant number of bird species. This is important information that can help improve and potentially increase the amount of restored meadow habitat in the Sierra. Healthy montane meadows are important to birds and people because they not only store water and carbon, they also offer critical and unique nesting and feeding areas for a large portion of the Sierra bird community. Read the publication brief here. Secondly, we’re happy to announce that with our partners from the Sierra Institute, we’ve been awarded $1.8 million to restore over 500 acres of meadow and 4,000 acres of aspen and upland forest around the North Fork of the Feather River. Stay tuned for more on this exciting effort in the coming year! Visit our website to learn more about our approach to restoration.

Better Science to Save More Whales

A curious humpback whale inspecting divers. Credit: NOAA.

Point Blue works with other non-governmental organizations, research institutions, federal agencies, and the shipping industry to find solutions to ships striking whales, a leading cause of death for these marine mammals. Thanks to recent work we’re now able to predict with increasing accuracy how many whales are killed by ships and how many could be saved when ships follow recommendations to slow their speeds in areas where whales are present. Improvements have already been made with our science as a basis. Speed decreases since 2014 led to 13% and 10% fewer blue and humpback whale deaths, respectively. In our recent publication we share that increasing cooperation with lane speed limits would further decrease mortality by approximately 25%. Our recommendations are not only applicable to helping whales in the waters off of California, but also around the world. Read more in our publication brief.

News Bites

The Election, Climate Change, and Conservation Science. As we congratulate the incoming administration of President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris, we recognize that many important challenges will require their immediate and sustained attention. Read more on how we believe science will play a critical role in our CEO Mani Oliva’s latest blog post.

Building Resilience. Did you know that 1,512 Western Snowy Plover chicks hatched at study sites monitored by Point Blue and partners at Vandenberg, Oceano Dunes, Monterey Bay, and Point Reyes National Seashore?  Dig into more impressive updates in our new Annual Impact Report and see how we build resilience through our science, outreach, and partnerships with your support.

Good News for San Francisco Bay. Point Blue shorebird data from the Redwood Salt Ponds contributed to the effort to show their ecological value and what would be lost if developed. Read the SF Chronicle article.

Combatting the Biodiversity and Climate Crises. On Wednesday, October 7, Governor Newsom released an executive order that charges state agencies to produce a climate-smart strategy for addressing the global biodiversity and climate crises. Read more in our blog post.

Counting Seals from Space. A recent Oceanographic article, that is compelling in both visuals and text, references our own Dr. Leo Salas’ satellite work to monitor the Antarctic crabeater seal population in collaboration with other world class researchers.

Weedy Struggle Benefits California Gulls. Read the fall update on our long-term and newly drone-driven gull work in the Mono Lake Newsletter. Further reading available in our last Point Blue Quarterly newsletter as well.


Science Stories from Palomarin, Episode 1: How Are the Birds Doing? Zoom, Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 12 PM – 1 PM. We’ll explore answers to this frequently asked question starting with our decades-long work at our Palomarin Field Station in the Point Reyes National Seashore and connecting to continent-wide bird conservation efforts. RSVP here.

Song Sparrow drawing by Oliver Nguyen/Point Blue Intern.

In the Field Live: Winter Residents. Facebook Live, Friday, November 20, 2020 at 8:30 AM – 9:15 AM. In this episode of “Live from the Field,” join us at the Palomarin Field Station to focus on our winter residents: who they are, what we know about them from our science, and what they’re telling us about the places they live. RSVP here.

Photo: Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Credit: Hilary Allen/Point Blue.

Scientist Spotlight: Brent Campos, Northern Sierra Project Leader

Much of Brent Campos’ research centers on figuring out if the restoration projects that Point Blue and others lead are actually working and then guiding how they might work better in the future. He focuses on birds and meadows to understand the big picture of effects of climate change in the Sierra Nevada, the California Cascades, and beyond. He is the lead author on the above-mentioned publication on Sierra meadow restoration.

We asked Brent how our approach to restoration has been evolving over the past few years. Here’s what he said:

“We continue to learn and improve. We are learning how to better prioritize and implement meadow restoration projects to achieve deeper, more durable benefits to birds, other wildlife, and people in our warming world. Our research and tool development over the last few years have specifically addressed these challenges.

“The power of collaboration to improve restoration outcomes has never been more apparent than now. Every partner we work with brings a different perspective, which is tremendously helpful for seeing different angles and solutions to any problem. Including additional partners on projects can slow the overall process, but this is easily outweighed by the improvements to outcomes.

“Lastly, I think we have a deeper appreciation of the immense value of involving local communities and other interested parties with the physical act of restoring and stewarding meadows. Digging, planting, patching, feeling the soil in your hands—these acts result in an emotional investment and empowerment, which is crucial for seeing that patch of earth through long-term healing. Stewards benefit by reconnecting with the ecology of the world, and such acts of reciprocity arguably help to restore our own emotional and spiritual well being.”