NWF Helps Launch Restoration of Mobile Bay

NWF is joining the 100-1000 coalition to protect & restore Mobile Bay's oyster reefs.

11-22-2010 // Bob Serata
Oyster reef restoration projectA massive freighter moves slowly up Mobile Bay, its wake a mile or two in the distance. The wake dissipates as it travels across the bay toward the marsh. Still, a one-foot-high wake hits the shoreline, one of thousands upon thousands of wakes that have contributed to the decimation of bayside marshes – along with development, “reef mining” (collecting the shells from natural oyster reefs to use for road construction), not to mention the short and long-term impacts from the Gulf oil disaster.

But parts of the wake hit a 30-meter-long barrier of “reef balls.” On the shoreward side of the man-made reef the water is flat calm, barely moving the sands, mud and vegetation lining the bay, creating the quiet habitat necessary for the recovery of bay life.

Like a proud parent, Jeff DeQuattro, coastal projects manager for The Nature Conservancy, smiles. “See, it works,” he says.

The reef balls are part of the first project launched by 100-1000, which has set its sights on building 100 miles of oyster reefs and restoring 1,000 acres of coastal marsh in Mobile Bay. Led by the Alabama Coastal Foundation and Mobile Baykeeper, two community-based organizations long on volunteers but short on funding, 100-1000 hit a wall.

So the National Wildlife Federation and Alabama Wildlife Federation have partnered with a broad coalition by contributing $50,000 and $10,000, respectively to get the launch phase completed. The partnership also includes The Nature Conservancy and The Ocean Foundation.

The money will help 100-1000 buy and place reef balls and specially-bagged oyster shells to restore shoreline communities, allowing vegetation and fin fish to find safe havens and restore previously destroyed habitat for oysters to settle, grow and build new reefs.

The $60,000 grants were presented during Volunteer Appreciation Day at Helen Wood Park on the southwest shores of Mobile Bay, not far from Dauphin Island which was another nearby victim of the Gulf oil disaster.

Slogging through the mud, paddling kayaks, dragging bag after bag of debris to the designated trash truck, volunteers spent the morning cleaning the area. Ten tires were brought out of the water. An old computer monitor and rotted captain’s chair joined the trash pile. A volunteer brought a three-foot square of fiberglass planking out of the marsh. There were muddy boots and pants and lots of smiles.

“Mobile Baykeeper amassed this group of volunteers that couldn’t really be on the ground immediately after the oil spill, couldn’t do the emergency response work,” said Crystal Webb, National Wildlife Federation Oil Response Manager. “So this is a way for them to just get in the ground and get in the dirt and get in the water and do some of the long term work that has a direct, immediate impact,” she added.

For the National Wildlife Federation, the 100-1000 project represents a real, working, doable action that impacts Mobile Bay wildlife in both the short and long term.

John Hammond, National Wildlife Federation Southeast Regional Executive Director said, “We believe the work that’s being done here to reestablish a very important habitat and a number of wildlife species is important for coastal Alabama, for the Gulf Coast community at large and for the United States.” He added, “These are private dollars, part of the money the American public has entrusted with us to do some good.”

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