Alabama’s Gulf Coast benefits from $47 million in habitat restoration grants

More than $47 million will go to Alabama to help restore watersheds and habitats 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; Acquisition of Gulf Highlands Conservation, $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 commitments of the NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) for projects in Alabama. This latest round brings the awards total to more than $356 million in restoration funding over 10 years to protect projects in Alabama from criminal prosecution support fines related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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

“Whether it’s our investments in coastal reef conservation that support our thriving red snapper fisheries, or our land conservation efforts to protect wildlife and non-wildlife species in places like the Perdido River Corridor, Fort Morgan Peninsula and the Grand Bay Savanna, there it is there is no doubt that Alabama made the most of those 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.”

Over the past decade, 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 creek rehabilitation that will avoid 50-70 million pounds of sediment annually.
  • More than 250 hectares of artificial reef habitat and thousands of artificial reefs installed to increase fish productivity.
  • Sustainable fisheries management through comprehensive science and monitoring.
  • Habitat improvement to strengthen populations of shorebirds, marine mammals and sea turtles.
  • Restoring 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, GEBF has supported 47 natural resource projects in Alabama and worked with 39 partners to implement 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, executive director and CEO of the NFWF, said the announcement of the final grants was “the culmination of investment in historic preservation 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 improve 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 in 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 ecological function.
  • Preserving the Barrier Island of Alabama – Dauphin Island is Alabama’s only barrier island and one of the largest on the Gulf Coast, spanning 14 miles. It provides valuable wildlife habitat and protects important resources of the Mississippi Sound while maintaining the ecological conditions within the Sound critical to its fisheries, oyster beds and seagrass beds. The island is also an important resting place for migratory birds across the Gulf and provides habitat for numerous beach-nesting birds. The recovery and long-term resilience of Dauphin Island, which has often been subject to significant severe weather events, has been the subject of important priority investments under the GEBF. The NFWF has awarded nearly $50 million in GEBF funding to nine projects to improve and protect the island.
  • Improve coastal resilience by restoring the shoreline – Annual coastal habitat loss on the west coast of Mobile Bay averages more than 2 feet in some areas. Since 2001, more than 11% of the total coastal area has been lost to erosion caused by storms, shipping and natural degradation. Nearly $120 million in GEBF funding to support shoreline restoration has also mobilized more than $20 million in NFWF funding for Coastal Resilience to strengthen natural defenses against erosion and improve the ecology of coastal waters.
Hawksbill Turtle. (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)
  • Restorations of watersheds – Degradation of watersheds and coastal streams has coincided with significant growth in the region in recent decades. GEBF investment in watershed planning through the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program has helped identify and prioritize the most cost-effective restoration actions to improve water quality along the coast, including projects to improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient loads that have significant benefits for wetlands provide habitats, underwater vegetation, oyster reefs and other marine species. The GEBF funding also bolstered a long-standing partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to work with farmers and ranchers on the Alabama coast to bring conservation relief and best management practices to more than 30,000 acres worth implemented more than $14.5 million to improve quality and habitat.
  • Strengthening Fisheries in Alabama – The GEBF has invested more than $44 million in Alabama to strengthen fish populations through habitat creation and improved monitoring and management. Monitoring fish populations in Alabama has produced a wealth of data that informs the management of vital commercially and economically important fisheries. The GEBF investments also created over 1,000 acres of reef habitat in Alabama, including 800 acres of offshore oyster reef and 250 acres of nearby and offshore artificial reef habitat suitable for red snapper and other offshore reef species.

For more information on Alabama’s coastal restoration projects from all of Deepwater Horizon’s funding sources, click here.

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

Learn more about some of Alabama Power’s environmental efforts here.