Kickstarting Recovery in Alabama
Partnership aims to restore 100 miles of oyster reef to protect 1,000 acres of seagrass and marsh.
THE 100-1000: RESTORE COASTAL ALABAMA PROJECT
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, four leading conservation organizations — Alabama Coastal Foundation, Mobile Baykeeper, The Nature Conservancy and The Ocean Foundation — formed a partnership to address impacts from the oil spill and reverse years of environmental degradation along the Alabama coast.
"The 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama project is an impressive model for partnership building that has great potential to be replicated and used to advance large-scale restoration efforts across the Gulf of Mexico," said Judy Haner, marine and freshwater programs director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.
While each of the partners has a primary role, the Conservancy is leading the project's science and restoration effort. With a growing roster of more than 30 public and private partners, ranging from federal and state agencies to academic institutions, the coalition is working to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and plant and promote the growth of 1,000 acres of marsh and seagrass.
The project kicked off in early 2011 with an impressive volunteer event attended by more than 500 people from around the country helping to build a ¼-mile oyster reef at Helen Wood Park along Mobile Bay. Once installed, the reefs were breaking waves before they reached the shoreline. Within months of construction, Conservancy scientists began seeing increased bird and fish activity around the reefs and expansion of the nearby marsh.
In spring 2012, the Conservancy is heading up construction on the next half-mile of oyster reef. Haner and her team have already mapped out the next several miles of reef restoration and are working tirelessly to secure funding to put the projects on the ground.
Designed to have a lasting impact on the ecology, culture and economy of the Alabama coast — and the greater Gulf of Mexico region — this large-scale restoration effort will:
- provide habitat for oyster larvae to settle and colonize,
- create nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish (shrimp, blue crab, speckled trout, red drum, southern flounder, ladyfish and gray snapper),
- dampen wave energy and decrease erosion, and
- stabilize sediments and decreasing turbidity.
In addition to involving volunteers and community members, the restoration work is also providing jobs for struggling locals whose businesses have been affected by the depressed economy and oil spill. There is a need for people to help build the reef structures and skilled boat crews to deploy them.
"I think this is the best kind of win-win," notes Haner. "We all depend on the resources of the Gulf. By restoring the health of our natural resources, we begin to restore and strengthen the health of our communities at the same time."
See progress at Helen Wood Park, one year after an artificial oyster reef was built.
The Conservancy's Alabama program received funding from NOAA through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to construct living shorelines along the state's coast.
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