Restoring the Heart of Coastal Alabama
See how oyster restoration projects protected Alabama's shorelines and created jobs.
By JoAnn Mitchell
On a sunrise drive to Dauphin Island, early morning mists blanket dozens of oyster boats, dotting the waters of Mobile Bay.
Recent economic and ecological troubles have threatened this traditional source of work and income that has sustained generations of coastal Alabamians.
The Oyster Reef Restoration Project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), seeks to restore the reefs while creating jobs for those who make their living off the waters.
To date, 33 people have gained employment from this project – from marine scientists to engineers to laborers to my position as the project’s educator and public outreach coordinator. In this role, I have undertaken a variety of tasks including:
- developing lesson plans about oysters, oyster reefs and restoration for the Sea Lab’s K-12 and teacher training workshops;
- creating a new outdoor oyster reef restoration display for the Living Marsh Boardwalk of the Estuarium; and
- producing educational outdoor signage on the project near the two reef sites.
Through this project, I’ve had the great fortune to work with experts and fishermen from a variety of backgrounds, and I’ve been inspired by their enthusiasm and teamwork.
The scope of this project is made possible by the collaborative efforts of all its partners: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Nature Conservancy, Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), and The University of South Alabama.
As one of 50 ARRA coastal restoration projects around the country, this ambitious effort covers the greatest expanse of reef ever attempted in our state -- and it takes a tremendous amount of diligence and work to determine the techniques that work the most efficiently.
“The lessons we learned about reef longevity in previous projects led to improved designs as well as selection of some new methods for this ARRA project,” said Stephen Scyphers, a Ph.D. candidate at the DISL.
The three techniques used in this restoration effort are:
- Reef Balls - Employees from Reef Innovations have 15 years of experience in making reef balls, and have worked on sites from Nova Scotia to the Persian Gulf. Now they are determining the best way to use reef balls in Mobile Bay waters.
- ReefBLK℠ - Steel workers, busy bending and welding, hope to protect 500 meters of shoreline with their patented living units.
- Bagged Shell - Hands-on laborers from J&W Marine Enterprises Inc., spend hours bagging the heavy, sharp oyster shells needed for the project.
“Probably the greatest strength of this research component is the interdisciplinary approach that will allow us to better understand not only how shoreline restoration projects affect critical nearshore environments, but also the coastal communities that rely so heavily upon them,” Scyphers added.
This project seeks to create jobs, improve the environment, and protect a living resource that is a vital way of life for generations of coastal dwellers. For me, it has provided an education in cooperation and hope for the future of our coast.
JoAnn Mitchell is an education and outreach coordinator for Dauphin Island Sea Lab, a partner organization of The Nature Conservancy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.