Restore Coastal Alabama Volunteer Profiles

“This is so important to our state. We just want to do all we can to maintain our shores, our economy and our ecological sources. It was a great project to get involved in."

01-25-2011 // Craig Guillot

More than 500 volunteers came from far and wide on January 22, 2011 to help build a quarter-mile oyster reef in Mobile Bay. The effort was part of 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama, a project aimed at building more than 100 miles of oyster reef in Mobile, Ala., in the next three to five years. The first part of the project was made possible with a $50,000 donation from National Wildlife Federation.

Read more about the event >>

Linda Woodcock and Kathleen Cutting help restore coastal Alabama

Linda Woodcock, Huntsville, Ala.

Huntsville resident Linda Woodcook learned about the opportunity to volunteer with 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama project through the NWF newsletter and web site. Her family was so excited by the chance to take a direct part in Gulf Coast restoration that they all drove five hours to join in the muddy fun.

“I’m really interested in protecting our environment, especially the Gulf Coast after the oil spill. Except for sinking down in the mud, it has been great,” said Woodcock.

Woodcock and her family spent the latter part of the day trekking through the mud to move pallets and sacks of oyster shells down the line. Back in Huntsville, she volunteers her time for other environmental projects and often writes to senators on various environmental issues.

“I think the citizens of Alabama and the rest of the Gulf Coast have to come together and make some of these things happen,” she said.

Her daughter Kathleen Cutting said although they live 350 miles from the coast, the disaster hit home for everyone when they couldn’t get oysters in local restaurants. Creating such oyster reefs was not just about minimizing erosion and creating habitat, it was also about helping out the local economy.

“[Seafood], as well as tourism, is very important for the people here. And when the industries down here are affected, it has an economic impact throughout the rest of the state,” said Cutting.

Stephanie Hill-Alexander, Lincoln, Ala.

Local and regional businesses are often willing to lend a hand in volunteer projects. Stephanie Hill-Alexander or Honda Manufacturing of Alabama drove five hours down from Lincoln, Ala., with more than two dozen Honda employees. They split up and worked among various teams to lay down the base of the reef and stack sacks of oyster shells.

“This is so important to our state. We just want to do all we can to maintain our shores, our economy and our ecological sources. It was a great project to get involved in,” she said.

A number of Honda employees also brought their families, many who often vacation at nearby Gulf Shores. During the summer of 2010, the beaches there and at Orange Beach were hard-hit by oil, ruining a summer of fun and sun for so many families who had vacationed there for decades. Being able to give back to the region was a major draw for many of the volunteers.

“Many of them are so passionate about the beach and they just wanted to give back to the coast we all love so much. I am excited knowing I’m going to leave an imprint in the world that will last beyond my lifetime,” said Hill-Alexander.

Scott Dow volunteers

Scott Dow, San Francisco, Calif.

Originally from San Francisco, Scott Dow works with the volunteer Americorps National Community Civilian Core out of Vicksburg, Miss. He and his team members, which came from New Hampshire, Maryland, Oregon, Wisconsin and Indiana, showed up to help make a difference in the natural world while having some muddy fun.

Dow, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, spent the day trudging through the mud and moving hundreds of sacks of oyster shells down a carry line. He earned a new respect for oysters by seeing first-hand their importance to the ecosystem.

“Oyster reefs can really help preserve the environment. They can help with coastal preservation, prevent erosion, provide habitat and filter up to 2.5 gallons of water per hour,” said Dow.

The Americorps team has been working in the region for approximately ten months and recently worked with a food bank in Mobile to distribute food. They will soon be heading to Pensacola, Fla., to lead environmental volunteer projects for college students on spring break.

Mike Randall volunteers

Mike Randall, Mobile, Ala.

Mobile-resident Mike Randall works outdoors in landscaping and thought spending a day in the dirt would be a good way to help out his hometown. He didn’t know much about oysters going into the project other than the fact that they taste good on crackers with hot sauce.

“I’ve learned that they are very important for the habitats and other ecosystems. I don’t mind getting dirty and I just felt it was important for the future of the environment to volunteer my time,” said Randall.

Randall worked with more than 100 other volunteers to stack more than 23,000 bags of oyster shells along the quarter mile reef. Impressed with the organization of the event and the clear direction given by administrators, Randall said he will certainly consider volunteering again. Building a reef not only secures natural habitat for wildlife, it helps secure the future of Mobile.

“The livelihood of the economy is based on fishing and seafood. It’s just important for all of us to volunteer a little time to save the estuaries,” he said.

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