This past weekend several staff from The Nature Conservancy’s Indiana Chapter drove down to Mobile Bay, Alabama, for some of the dirtiest fun of their lives, and in the meantime helped to restore vital oyster reefs in the Bay.
They joined over 400 other volunteers for the 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama project. The 100-1000 project, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Coastal Foundation, Mobile Baykeeper and The Ocean Foundation, endeavors to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and grow 1,000 acres of marsh and sea grass. This past weekend 17,000 bags of oyster shells were put into place to build the first 700 feet of a quarter-mile oyster reef.
In addition to Conservancy staff, 23 students from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs joined in the restoration. The students traveled to Alabama courtesy of Dr. Vicky Meretsky, who is an Associate Professor for SPEA as well as an advisory trustee for the Conservancy’s Indiana Chapter.
Volunteers were at Helen Wood Park on Mobile Bay in Alabama, building just under a kilometer of oyster reef—a living shoreline that will help expand and strengthen the marsh, slow erosion and provide important habitat for oysters as well as fish, crabs, wading birds and countless other species that live in the Gulf of Mexico. Oyster reefs are the foundation of many of the Gulf’s most productive marshes and estuaries. Healthy reefs not only provide economic value from the actual fishery, but they also provide for coastal resiliency, shoreline protection and benefits to other species like coastal birds. Young oysters are quick to colonize the shell once it’s in the water and at one restoration project near Alabama Port in Mobile Bay, baby oysters were already thriving on the old shell six weeks after the reef was laid.
Volunteers for the 100-1000 project came from as far as San Francisco and New Hampshire and from as close as four blocks down the street. A bus full of volunteers from Honda enlivened everyone with their excitement and their bright red shirts. People came in groups and by themselves and with their families and their friends. Ladies from the League of Women Voters made sandwiches, and another volunteer used his turkey fryer to make hot chocolate by the boatload.
By the end of the weekend, more than 450 people donated their time, and also something of themselves—their spirits and enthusiasm.
For hours upon hours, they moved thousands of heavy sacks full of gritty oyster shells. And some of them—most of them—were beyond “muddy.” That’s the polite word for what they were, which was filthy.
But no matter how far they traveled, or how dirty they got, their reasons for coming to Mobile Bay were nearly identical: to do something with their hands for the Gulf.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Director of Communications