Inaugural Project for 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama
By Carol Adams-Davis
As a first step in restoring the coast of Alabama and struggling coastal economies, nearly 500 volunteers from across the country started rebuilding oyster reefs along the delicate shoreline of Helen Wood Park, on the western shore of Mobile Bay, hoping to revive oyster beds that have been under assault for decades from overharvesting, coastal development, pollution, and most recently the BP oil spill.
The waters harbor much of the world's last remaining productive natural oyster beds, but the BP, April 20, oil well blowout dumped millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf and dealt yet another blow to this once bountiful habitat.
The Gulf Coast saw scores of oyster die-offs from the summer of oil, in part because officials flooded some areas with fresh water to try to keep crude out of sensitive bays and estuaries. That upset the balance of fresh and salt water, killing millions of oysters. In Mississippi, oyster mortality rates were so high after the spill; the state did not allow a dredging season for the first time in more than 20 years.
This weekend’s chilly inaugural project is one of the first major volunteer environmental restoration projects launched in response to the BP oil spill. The 100-1,000: Restore Coastal Alabama Partnership is an effort to create 100 miles of oyster reefs and 1,000 acres of marsh and sea grass in Mobile Bay. While critical to rebuilding habitat for quick fish stock recovery, the project will also aid in combating storm water runoff and non-point source pollution issues. It is a joint project sponsored by the Alabama Coastal Foundation, Mobile Baykeeper, the Nature Conservancy and the Ocean Foundation with the partnership of Mobile Bay Group Sierra Club, Alabama Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Alabama Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation, US Fish & Wildlife Service's, Weeks Bay Foundation, and many other volunteer organizations and stakeholders.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed about $70,000 to the project, which was approved before the oil spill but was delayed until the waters were relatively clear of crude. Funding also came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and donations. The total cost is expected to be about $100 million, and it likely will take up to five years to complete, if funding continues.
The U.S. presidential panel, created to investigate the oil spill, recently recommended that 80 percent of fines and penalties, eventually levied against responsible parties, be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration. This could be an opportunity to create the most significant environmental restoration projects in our country’s history, making coastal areas more resilient to impacts from hurricanes, oil spills and climate change.
In this photo taken Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, Mobile Bay Group Sierra Club volunteers Carol Adams-Davis, Stan Johnson, and Leslie McDonnell rejoice after a muddy weekend of deploying 23,000 bags of oyster shells to create ¼ mile of new oyster reef. Only 99 ¾ miles to go!!! Hundreds of volunteers from across the country spent the weekend helping with one of the first coastal restoration projects since BP's April 20 oil spill.