Alabama's Gulf Coast to benefit from $47 million in watershed, habitat restoration grants

More than $47 million is coming to Alabama for watershed and habitat restoration along the state’s Gulf Coast, Gov. Kay Ivey has announced.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) recently approved five new projects for the state, selected in coordination with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and federal resource agencies.

The projects are: Dauphin Island East End Restoration, Phase II, $26.1 million; Lower Fish River Watershed Restoration, Phase II, $9 million; Gulf Highlands Conservation Acquisition, $8.2 million; Wolf and Sandy Creek Headwaters Restoration, Phase II, $2.79 million; and Alabama Coastal Adaptive Management, $1 million.

The projects represent the final funding obligations from NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) for projects in Alabama. This final round brings the total awards to more than $356 million in restoration funding over 10 years to support projects in Alabama from criminal fines related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“These investments tell a story of significant accomplishments that will go a long way in protecting Alabama’s diverse, coastal ecosystem for decades to come,” Ivey said in a news release.

“Whether it be our investments into maintaining the coastal reefs that support our thriving red snapper fishery, or our land conservation efforts to protect game and non-game species in places like the Perdido River Corridor, Fort Morgan Peninsula and the Grand Bay Savanna, there is no doubt Alabama has made the absolute most of these funds,” Ivey said.

Ivey also recognized state Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and his team and Deepwater Horizon Restoration Coordinator Amy Hunter “for the work they continue to do for the citizens and natural resources of coastal Alabama.”

During the past decade, the NFWF investments have made significant contributions to the long-term sustainability of critical coastal resources in Alabama, the governor’s office said, including:

  • Nearly 9,000 acres of important habitats acquired, conserved, restored or enhanced.
  • Nearly 11 miles of vulnerable shoreline protected.
  • Improved water quality through 3 miles of stream restoration that will avoid 50-70 million pounds of sediment annually.
  • More than 250 acres of artificial reef habitat and thousands of artificial reefs installed to enhance fish productivity.
  • Sustainable fisheries management through comprehensive science and monitoring.
  • Habitat enhancements to bolster populations of coastal birds, marine mammals and sea turtles.
  • Restoration of more than 800 acres of oyster reef habitat.

An interactive story map of Alabama projects supported by GEBF can be found here.

Red snapper. (Jason Arnold)

Since its inception, the GEBF has supported 47 natural resource projects in Alabama and worked with 39 partners in implementing the projects. The projects leverage or complement nearly $200 million in other funds for a total conservation impact of more than $555 million to benefit natural resources negatively affected by the 2010 oil spill, officials said.

Jeff Trandahl, NFWF executive director and CEO, said the announcement of the final grants are “the culmination of historic conservation investments in Alabama following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

“Working closely with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, we have made strategic investments that support fish and wildlife and their habitats,” Trandahl said. “These projects will continue to enhance the productivity and resilience of the Alabama coast for decades to come.”

Here are some highlights about the positive impacts of the coastal projects:

  • Strategic habitat protection – GEBF has invested more than $100 million into 12 projects in Alabama to acquire and permanently protect approximately 7,500 acres of coastal habitat. The properties are now being managed to remove invasive species, restore native flora and improve ecologic function.
  • Conserving Alabama’s barrier island – Dauphin Island is Alabama’s only barrier island and one of the largest on the Gulf Coast, stretching 14 miles. It provides valuable wildlife habitat and protects important Mississippi Sound resources while also maintaining ecological conditions within the Sound that are critical to its fisheries, oysters and seagrass beds. The island is also a significant trans-Gulf migratory bird stopover area and provides habitat to numerous beach-nesting birds. Often subject to significant severe weather events, Dauphin Island’s restoration and long-term resilience were the subject of key focal investments under the GEBF. NFWF has awarded nearly $50 million in GEBF funds to nine projects to enhance and protect the island.
  • Enhancing coastal resilience through shoreline restoration – Annual loss of shoreline habitat on the western shore of Mobile Bay has averaged more than 2 feet in some areas. Since 2001, more than 11% of overall shoreline acreage has been lost to erosion caused by storms, marine traffic and natural degradation. Nearly $120 million in GEBF funds to support shoreline restoration has also leveraged more than $20 million in NFWF Coastal Resilience funding to strengthen natural defenses against erosion and improve the ecology of coastal waters.
Hawksbill sea turtle. (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)
  • Watershed restorations – Degradation of watersheds and coastal streams has coincided with significant growth in the region during the past several decades. GEBF investments in watershed planning by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program have helped identify and prioritize the most cost-effective restoration activities to improve water quality along the coast, including projects that improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient loads that provide significant benefits to marsh habitats, submerged aquatic vegetation, oyster reefs and other marine species. GEBF funding also has enhanced a longstanding partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to work with farmers and ranchers in coastal Alabama to implement conservation easements and best management practices, worth more than $14.5 million, on more than 30,000 acres to enhance water quality and improve habitat.
  • Bolstering Alabama fisheries – The GEBF has invested more than $44 million in Alabama to bolster fish populations through habitat creation and improved monitoring and management. Monitoring of fish populations in Alabama has produced a wealth of data that is informing management of vital commercially and economically important fisheries. GEBF investments also created over 1,000 acres of reef habitat in Alabama, including 800 acres of nearshore oyster reef and 250 acres of near- and offshore artificial reef habitat suitable for red snapper and other offshore reef species.

For more information about the coastal restoration projects in Alabama from all Deepwater Horizon funding sources, click here.

Alabama Power and its parent Southern Company have maintained a 19-year partnership with NFWF on meaningful environmental protection projects that benefit the region. The partnership includes support for NFWF’s Southeast Aquatics Fund, the Five Star and Urban Water Restoration Grant Program, Bats for the Future Fund, Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund and the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative. Protecting and preserving Alabama’s Gulf Coast is part of Alabama Power’s and Southern Company’s longstanding commitment to communities and the environment.

Learn more about some of Alabama Power environmental stewardship efforts here.

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