An ambitious habitat-restoration plan for Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound announced Tuesday would establish 100 miles of oyster reefs and 1,000 acres of marsh wetlands and grass beds over the next five years.
The plan coined “100/1000: Restore Coastal Alabama” was rolled out at Five Rivers Delta Research Center by representatives of its primary sponsors: Mobile Baykeeper, the Alabama Coastal Foundation, The Ocean Foundation and the Alabama chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Small-scale oyster-reef rebuilding projects have been under way for the past couple of years, but the Gulf of Mexico oil spill became a rallying point for a much larger effort.
“I think what the oil spill did is open peoples’ eyes to the Gulf and the disasters that have impacted it,” said Jeff DeQuattro, Nature Conservancy coastal project manager in Alabama. “We may have been doing restoration, but at one-tenth the rate this plan calls for.”
He said, “We’ve done the studies that show the steady and steep decline of our ecosystems. This could be the nexus to begin the real recovery of coastal ecosystems Gulf-wide, starting in Alabama.”
A first phase of 100/1000 is set to begin in October with the enhancement of a small project at Helen Wood Park north of Dog River.
Judy Haner, Nature Conservancy marine projects manager, estimated that 100/1000 will cost about $60 million in its entirety.
She said that sponsors are “madly writing grants” to agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Also, she said, there may be potential for federal money such as that being used to restore the Everglades and coastal Louisiana.
BP PLC — majority owner of the well that spewed oil into the Gulf this summer — could also supply funding, although Haner said that 100/1000 does not hinge on it. “If BP turns out to be funding source, that would be great, but if not, we’re moving ahead anyway,” she said.
Haner said that a study of the plan’s ultimate economic impact is in the works, and she has been told that the figure might be as much as five times the initial investment.
According to a 100/1,000 fact sheet, 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost, including 90 percent in Alabama.
New reefs will provide habitat for oyster larvae and serve as nursery for important finfish and shellfish species, while also dampening wave energy and decreasing erosion.
Avery Bates, vice president of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama and an oysterman of 35 years, attended the Tuesday announcement. It’s critical, he said, to “improve the habitat for our children, our heritage.”
Bates said that the reefs must be built where they can seed themselves, then survive long-term.
“They’ve got to be a living reef,” Bates said. “Every barrel of shell put over can produce four to five barrels of oysters. When we expend this money — if we expend it in the right way at the right time — then financially, environmentally and historically, we’ll be much better off.”
See video here: http://blog.al.com/live/2010/09/video_conservation_groups_unve.html