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: Surf & Turf Conservation Science

Working with Ranchers to Heal the Land

Tiffany Russell (L) with Jack Darcy, Willow Creek Ranch Owner, credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue

Great things are happening in the remote northeastern corner of California. Water tables are rising.The land is sequestering more carbon. Nesting and feeding habitat is increasing for iconic wildlife like Pronghorn and Sandhill Cranes. And people across diverse sectors are coming together to spend the time to make it all happen. On a recent trip to Lassen County we visited with ranchers who are leading the way in implementing conservation-oriented ranching practices to improve the health of the land. Read more in our recent Science for a Blue Planet blog post.

Managing for Drought in a Changing Climate

Climate projections and the 2012–16 drought illustrate that California needs to plan for increasingly severe water shortages. In a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California, co-authored by Point Blue’s Nat Seavy, PhD, four essential reforms are recommended and outlined: 1) developing drought plans, 2) upgrading water infrastructure, 3) updating water allocation rules, and 4) finding the money to finance these reforms. Read our publication brief and access the full report to learn more.

Little Fish, Better Data

Whales and seabirds feeding, credit: Sophie Webb/Point Blue/NOAA.

We’re pioneering new, better ways to assess abundance of small ocean fishes that fuel marine wildlife populations and the entire ocean food web. This affects how we manage fisheries and track changes in fish over time. We combined analyses of seabird diet samples from the Farallon Islands with surveys using a fish finder to assess abundance of forage fish such as anchovies through sound waves in the water. In contrast to traditional trawling surveys, our approach used fish harvested by seabirds breeding on the Farallon Islands and covered the area with more detail. Take a look at our new publication and associated brief to learn more.


Seabirds and Virus Science

Monitoring disease can be an important part of the wildlife conservation puzzle. If we know what pathogenic viruses are present in a population and how they’re transmitted — for example through air, feces,or soil — we can suggest mitigation actions, such as requiring biologists to bleach their boots and equipment if they’re entering a sensitive wildlife area. In collaboration with Arvind Varsani’s virology research group at Arizona State University, we discovered a new gyrovirus, a genus of virus in the family Anelloviridae, in Ashy Storm-Petrels on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Although this virus does not appear to have any negative impacts on the birds, knowledge of the pre-existing viral community can be important for understanding population changes for species of conservation concern, such as the storm-petrels. We know that gyroviruses have caused anemia in chickens, so it’s worth being aware of and monitoring in wild bird populations. We’ve collaborated with Dr. Varsani on similar viral discovery research projects in Antarctica, focusing on Adelie Penguins and Weddell Seals.

News Bites

Unexpected Results. It turns out that seabirds who make more attempts at raising young are not, in fact, sacrificing themselves to give the next generation a shot at survival. They are actually displaying a sign of greater individual quality. Read more in our new publication and associated brief led by Point Blue Farallon Biologist, Mike Johns.

Fall Songbird Science. The Farallon Islands are a major stopover site for migrating songbirds. We’re teaming up with Benjamin Van Doren from Cornell University and Kasper Thorup and Kat Snell from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to investigate how birds navigate. See a recent blog post to learn more about the fall migrants that stop on the Farallones.

New Article on Recent Drought Study. Mongabay shared a great article last month on our June publication about pinpointing key habitat for migratory waterbirds.

New Annual Report. Please check out our new Annual Report with stories of our conservation impact from CA and beyond! Explore our first-ever, interactive digital highlights version, then download the full report.


Scientist Spotlight: Mike Johns

Mike Johns is the newest member of our Farallon Program. He officially joined the team as a biologist in 2014, but interned on the island with us in 2012. We asked Mike what his favorite part of his job is, what accomplishments he’s most proud of so far, and what he’s looking forward to. Here’s an abbreviated summary of what he said. See his full responses here.

“The obvious answer to the question of my favorite parts of the job would be the many amazing moments I’ve shared with fellow staff and interns on Southeast Farallon Island. From netting ashy storm-petrels beneath the veil of the Milky Way and its billions of stars, to watching a golden fog roll in from atop the lighthouse at sunset. I’m proud of leveraging long term datasets from the Farallones to generate cool and informative graphics. Looking ahead, I’m excited about being part of a project to characterize non-breeding winter distribution, habitat needs, and potential risk of oil spill exposure when away from the island for Cassin’s auklets and pigeon guillemots using  small archival light-sensing tags called geolocators.”

Upcoming Events

Bird-A-Thon. September 19th – October 19th. It’s not too late to join a team or donate! Join us in supporting conservation through the 40th annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon. Register or donate now!

Food, Fiber, and Farms of the Future. October 18th. Point Blue is proud to be a sponsor and participant for this great event focusing on sustainable practices on working lands. Visit the event page to learn more and buy a ticket.

Tern Society Luncheon. October 25th. Tern Society members are invited to an exclusive luncheon and presentation. Not a Tern Society member? Learn how to become one here.

Climate-Smart Restoration Workshop. November 9th. If you implement or design restoration projects, please consider signing up for a free workshop with Point Blue.

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.