Oyster Reef Breakwater Restoration Project on Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Created: 3/30/2010 - Updated: 12/06/2018

Summary

Oyster reef habitat has disappeared from much of the Gulf Coast. These reefs absorb wave energy, protecting shorelines from erosion and providing habitat for a variety of wildlife. The Nature Conservancy in Alabama conducted a project to restore this habitat to two tracts of shoreline in Mobile County. This 2009-2012 project created jobs and stabilized currently eroding shorelines, which are threatened by rising sea levels and storm surge.

Background

Storms, such as Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, have degraded shoreline habitats along the Gulf Coast of the United States and caused major economic and job losses in coastal Alabama. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Alabama initiated an oyster reef habitat restoration project in Mobile County in 2009. Typical shoreline hardening measures in the area include structures like bulkheads, seawalls, and jetties, which are used to stabilize shorelines but can alter and degrade habitat as well. This project was designed to create a natural, “living shoreline” of Crassostrea virginica oysters in order to restore an economically and ecologically important habitat to the state’s coast.

Oyster reefs are three dimensional habitats and serve many ecological functions; they can reduce shoreline erosion, create habitat for other species (fish, crabs, birds), and improve water quality by filtering nutrients and sediments. This habitat has essentially disappeared from Alabama’s coasts as a result of overfishing, pollution, disease, and storms. Oyster reefs serve as natural coastal buffers to protect shorelines by breaking down wave energy, so restoration of this habitat can help protect the coast from the likely increases in storm surges and sea level rise expected with climate change. This project aimed to:

  1. restore oyster habitat and its associated ecological services;
  2. stabilize and restore approximately 1500 meters of shoreline; and
  3. create 30–40 fishery and restoration related jobs for south Mobile County.

Three different restoration techniques were used at two locations in the state – Mobile Bay and Portersville Bay.

Implementation

TNC received a $2.9 million, two-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to restore oyster habitat. With assistance from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources State Lands Division, National Wildlife Federation, and countless volunteers, TNC used three different restoration techniques to create structures upon which oyster could seed and build over two acres of land. These techniques included bagged oyster shells, reef balls, and ReefBLKSM cages; each of these were placed along 500 meters of shoreline, totaling 1500 meters. Project leads also conducted physical and biological monitoring of the sites to measure success, and outreach to stakeholders, including the development of lesson plans for DISL’s K-12 and teacher training workshops, an outdoor restoration display, and outdoor signage near both reef sites.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Despite a four-month delay due to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, the project team created three acres of oyster reef along two miles of shoreline, and 30 acres of habitat for marsh and seagrass between November 2009 and September 2012. The project took approximately 50,000 man hours to complete, create over 30 full-time jobs, and contributed to the paychecks of over 100 scientists, engineers, laborers (including local fishermen and others displaced by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill), and project coordinators in coastal Alabama.

The success of this project has spurred the creation of a long-term program to promote economic growth and coastal resilience in the region. The 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama coalition aims to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and cultivate the growth of 1,000 acres of marsh and seagrass in order to:

  • Provide habitat for oyster larvae;
  • Serve as nursery habitat for commercial and recreational fish species (e.g., shrimp, blue crab, southern flounder);
  • Buffer wave energy and shoreline erosion; and
  • Stabilize sediments. 

The coalition includes 30 public and private partners such as TNC-Alabama, Alabama Coastal Foundation, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mobile Baykeeper, The Ocean Foundation, University of South Alabama, and other local, state, and federal agencies.

Status

Information gathered from online resources. Last updated Feb 2015

Citation

Gregg, R.M. (2010). Oyster Reef Breakwater Restoration Project on Alabama's Gulf Coast [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Alabama]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/oyster-reef-breakwater-restoration-project-al... (Last updated February 2015)

Project Contacts

Together with our members, donors and conservation partners, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama have protected more than 120,000 acres of critical natural lands in Alabama.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is responsible for the management and maintenance of 22 state parks, 23 public fishing lakes, three freshwater fish hatcheries, 35 wildlife management areas, two waterfowl refuges, two wildlife sanctuaries, a mariculture center with 35 ponds, and 645,000 acres of trust lands managed for the benefit of several state agencies, the General Fund and Alabama Trust Fund.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization. We work with more than 4 million members, partners and supporters in communities across the country to protect and restore wildlife habitat, confront global warming and connect with nature.

Keywords

Scale of Project: 
Community / Local
Sector Addressed: 
Conservation / Restoration
Fisheries
Target Climate Changes and Impacts: 
Culture / communities
Economics
Erosion
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Climate Type: 
Temperate
Timeframe: 
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Reduce local climate or related change
Taxonomic Focus: 
Other Invertebrates
Effort Stage: 
Completed