Q&A with Gage Swann Off-Bottom Oyster Worker - Spring 2020 - AL Current Connection

Mobile Oyster Co. Oysters Ready for Market

An article from our Spring 2020 Alabama Current connection

Alabama Current Connection
Spring 2020 Vo. XIV, Issue 1

The Oyster: An Icon of Life on the Alabama Gulf Coast (PDF, 6.2MB)

Our guest columnist is Gage Swann, a senior Management student at the University of South Alabama, who pays bills by working at the Mobile Oyster Company, an off-bottom oyster aquaculture operation in the salty waters on the west end of Dauphin Island.

Gage Swann Sorting Oysters for Mobile Oyster Co

Q: OK, senior at USA, former offensive lineman at Huntingdon College, and recently licensed charter boat captain Gage Swann, how did you become involved in off-bottom oyster aquaculture?

A: Before I got into all those other things you mentioned, I was just a Theodore High School graduate looking for a summer job while waiting for my first semester at Huntingdon to begin. My dad was actually the person who recommended me looking into working for an oyster farm. Somewhere along the search, I got in contact with a man who managed an oyster farm out in the Bayou (La Batre), back when there was a co-op of farmers out the mouth of West Fowl River. He lined up a training day for me, and from that moment, I have been working in off-bottom oyster aquaculture. Since then I have joined the team and am currently working for Cullan Duke at the Mobile Oyster Company.

Q: Describe a typical workday at the Mobile Oyster Company Company.

A: Our days at the Mobile Oyster Company usually begin around 8:00, when my buddy Aaron, other team members, and I meet to finish our morning coffee and discuss the goals we want to have accomplished for the day. 

Sometimes we have a perfect day on Dauphin Island, and we use those days to maximize the work we do caring for the oysters on the farm itself. Every oyster farmer has a few basic obligations to the farm to grow and maintain beautiful oysters.

Gage with Young ChargesThe most important obligation is making sure you have enough oysters counted and ready for a harvest. Having these bags already made up a few days before hand helps harvest run smoothly and in a quick time frame, which is really important during the summertime.

Another task we do on nice calm days would be desiccating our oysters (by raising and flipping our cages). During the summertime, it is recommended we do this once a week or at least once every two weeks. This practice dries the outside of our equipment and the oysters to limit any sort of biofouling. Biofouling is basically growth of barnacles and algae, on our equipment and oysters. Flipping the cages is the reason our oysters come out so clean with so few barnacles or other growth on them.

The rest of our time on these types of days involves us splitting bags of growing seed oysters (to reduce bag density), so that the oysters do not overburden equipment with their increasing size and weight. We also spend time hand sorting and counting oysters for our harvest bags.

During the wintertime, we get really strong north winds which makes working the farm in our location too much of a risk. We spend these days repairing any broken equipment, like worn down oyster grow cages for example, and also servicing our work boat.

Desciccation of Oysters
Desiccation involves lifting oyster grow cages above the water surface for 24 hours, usually once per week, to control biofouling of oysters and baskets and to rattle the oysters, chipping off new growth, which, along with waves and boat wakes, produces a rounder, deeper-cupped oyster more valuable on the half-shell market.



Q: What’s tougher, a mid-July work day or an early February?

Gage Swann - Management Student, Oyster Grower

A: In my opinion, I would rather have a mid-July workday every day of the year compared to the mid- February work days! This has almost everything to do with the type of weather trend our location is subject to in the wintertime. During the wintertime of year, it is almost guaranteed the water will be in the upper 50s, and we usually have more strong north winds too. This makes the tasks of getting in the water
to tend our oysters and driving the boat very difficult and uncomfortable. By the time summer comes around, we definitely become very thankful for the usual southerly flows of wind and the warm water.

Q: With regard to environmental issues, what stressors to wild oysters are oyster farmers able to avoid or control? What stressors present the major threats to farm-cultivated oysters?

I'm no expert on what has happened to our natural oysters reefs over the years but I do believe off-bottom oyster aquaculture helps avoid some of the obvious things that hurts the natural reefs.

  • Oyster drills (the primary oyster predator) usually are not that big of a problem for us because of the fact our oysters stay in the top of the water column, rather than on the bottom.
  • We are also able to avoid any issues with sediment covering oysters during big storms or from boat wakes, etc., again because we are at the top of the water column.

As to stressors for oyster farmers-

  • Hurricanes and strong storms. These storms have the ability to take a toll on oyster farms and the equipment itself. Even when farmers don’t sink their gear, strong storm surge and currents can bury our bags on the bottom and also chafe our main lines.
  • Water quality. Things like red tides and shutdowns due to high counts of sewage-related bacteria in the water are also hard to predict and leave us idle for many weeks.

Q: As a student in management, what are the biggest challenges to managing an oyster farm?

A: I think finding the right workers who can handle the types of conditions we have to work in is sometimes our biggest problem. Currently we have a really solid team, which I am thankful for, but in the past good, reliable help has been hard to find.

Q: What is most rewarding about oyster farming?

A: I particularly like seeing our customers post pictures of our oysters on social media or hearing from people who say it is the best oyster they ever tasted.

Q: So, USA Management student, should I invest in Alabama off-bottom oyster farming A operations?

Yes. This is a young industry in Alabama compared to other coastal areas in America, but in my opinion, the Gulf Coast and especially the central Gulf Coast has some of the richest waters for growing oysters. From the time I started five summers ago up until now, I have seen a lot of industry growth in Alabama and more people willing to give oyster aquaculture a try. They are all good people who, I think, can really make a name for the Alabama oyster nationwide. And if this doesn’t sell you, just come on down to Mobile Oyster Company and try one yourself.

Download the full Alabama Current Connection Spring 2020 Vo. XIV, Issue 1: The Oyster: An Icon of Life on the Alabama Gulf Coast (PDF, 6.2MB)

Mobile Oyster Co. Barge on Dauphin Island

Posted on 03/25/20 at 11:50 AM Permalink

Tips for Social Distancing and the Outdoors

Sunset in the Mobile Tensaw Delta on Kayaks
Kayaking in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta

Adapted by MBNEP for Coastal Alabama from https://www.conservationnw.org/tips-for-social-distancing-and-the-outdoors/ written by Keiko Betcher. Thank you Conservation NW!

While the following recommendations were informed by medical experts, we at MBNEP are not public health professionals. We believe these suggestions are appropriate given circumstances in Alabama at this time, and we’ll make edits or updates as needed. However, Conditions are changing very rapidly. Please stay tuned to the center for Disease Control, local and state elected leaders, law enforcement, and health department for the most up-to-date recommendations and public safety orders. 

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to develop across this country we are deeply saddened and offer our heartfelt condolences to those who are directly impacted by this virus. 

As coastal Alabama communities increasingly adopt social distancing and with restaurants, bars, recreation facilities, and other businesses temporarily closed, it’s good to see how many of our public access points remain open. These include water access sites and boat launches and state, city, and county parks.

Nature can be restorative. It can provide some respite from stressful, busy lives, and for many of us, the outdoors is simply where we’d rather be. So during this time, it’s only natural to desire some time with nature. We encourage it for all of you who are able!

Fresh air and exercise promote both physical and mental health when practiced responsibly. 

If you choose to head outdoors, please take steps to minimize the risk you pose to vulnerable individuals and to our healthcare system. Even while outside, be sure to practice social distancing and proper hygiene.

Suggestions for practicing social distancing in the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Please stay home if you’re not feeling well. As tempting as it is to take a short hike, paddle, or bicycle ride, if you are exhibiting ANY symptoms, you could be putting yourself (and others) at great risk.

Meaher State Park Delta Boardwalk trailStay Local

Now is a good time to explore the trails, parks, and outdoor spaces close to home in your community. Traveling long distances to a recreation area increases risks of spreading the virus to other communities (or bringing it back with you). Especially if you are from an urban area, where the virus is quickly spreading. It’s not worth even the small risk that you could spread it to a rural community, where medical services are already scarce. 

Think about what you are hoping to get out of nature and whether you can get it without interacting with other communities.

While in the outdoors, continue to maintain a six-foot distance from others. Be mindful of those around you. If other people have stopped at a vista or viewpoint, give them some space and maybe try stopping there on your way back. If the parking lot of your favorite park looks full, move on to a different one you’ve been meaning to visit. Consider broad beaches or boardwalks, birding at a wildlife area, hiking on gated forest roads, or other outdoor activities that minimize the potential for close encounters on narrow trails.

Bring Your Own Lunch and Limit Stops

Patronizing small businesses and restaurants near your favorite access point is normally a great idea that bolsters the local economy. However, during this crisis, avoid stopping anywhere you will be in contact with others. 

Ideally, bring food from home. If you do stop, consider ordering takeout, and ask if they can deliver it to your car and if you can pay with a card over the phone. Use hand sanitizer before and after exchanging items, and encourage others to do the same. If possible, fuel up at local gas stations before you leave and when returning home. Other ways to contribute to small businesses include purchasing gift cards and shopping with local merchants, but online.

Postpone Group Activities

Choose your adventure partners carefully. Avoid crowds and groups, especially those of more than five people. Pick someone with whom you are regularly in close contact, such as family members or roommates. For now, it’s best to avoid hanging out with friends you don’t see often. Many of our local wildlife areas have good wireless reception, so instead of meeting your friends in person, consider scheduling a video chat so you can share time outside in different locations. 

Don’t Carpool

Most of the time carpooling helps cut down on traffic and prevents filling up parking lots, but it should be avoided for now.

Maintain Excellent Hygiene

Wash or sanitize your hands frequently even when you’re out in nature. Keep yourself (and your possessions) clean, especially while traveling to and from opportunities to be outdoors.

Avoid Risky or Potentially Dangerous Activities

As you go outdoors, take it easy. Hospitals and emergency rooms should be prioritized for those who are sick, so avoid activities that might result in even minor injuries. Also, don’t take your four-wheel drive on a trial run. Now is not the time to be calling roadside assistance in a remote area.

Take Proper Precautions

Enjoying the outdoors is always best done with at least one companion. But if going alone seems the best, or only, choice for you at this time, make sure to take proper precautions by packing all necessary safety equipment and your charged cell phone. Let someone know where you are going, what your plans are, and when they should expect you back. Then don’t forget to check in with them when you get back!

Enjoying nature from your home

For those who are already experiencing the impacts of the virus or don’t have ready access to transportation, check out these resources to bring some of nature’s wonders and restorative gifts to wherever you are.

The Wild with Chris Morgan

Nature Podcasts. 

There are several great podcasts about nature and the outdoors. One favorite is The Wild with Chris Morgan. Chris is a great storyteller and his podcasts make you feel as if you’re there in the wild with him!


The National Wildlife Federation has made their Ranger Rick Magazine free online through June.

Nature Cams

Sometimes the most incredible things in nature are the rarest—and the only chance you’ll see them is on a screen. Now’s a great time to watch some nature documentaries, or check out live-streams of Alabama Coastal Foundation’s Wolf Bay Osprey Cam, videos of brown bears in Katmai National Park, bald eagles and sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium, jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more.

Discovering AlabamaDr. Doug Phillips on Discovering Alabama

Discovering Alabama is the longest-running and most popular locally produced show on Alabama Public Television. Join Dr. Doug Phillips as he crisscrosses the state bringing the Alabama wilderness to you. Nearly all of the 87 shows can be watched free online. 

Contribute Time to Research

You can also contribute to wildlife research as a community scientist without having to leave your home. Check out some of the nature projects you can assist with on Zooniverse, an online platform for volunteer-powered research in which anyone can participate!

However you go about getting through this tough time, we hope you still get the chance to enjoy your love for the wild while staying safe and healthy.

Other Outside Activities

Walk around the block with a bag to pick up trash. (wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when you get home!)

Water Rangers App Picking up trash around the block Riding Bikes at McNally Park, Mobile

Download the Water Rangers App (iPhone/Android) and learn how to become a citizen scientist water quality monitor. 

Walk around the block with a bag to pick up trash. (wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when you get home!)

Check out some of the bicycle routes on BicycleMobile.org

Play a round of disc golf at one of the many local courses you can find on UDisk (iPhone/Android)

Find an access point or boat ramp you’ve never been to on cleanwaterfuture.com/access
Posted on 03/19/20 at 12:12 PM Permalink

Current Connection Spring 2020 - The Oyster: An Icon of Life on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Commercial oyster men tonging oysters near Cedar Point.

The Oyster: An Icon of Life on the Alabama Gulf Coast

by Roberta Swann, Director, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program

One thing I have learned since moving to Alabama 20 years ago is this: you can’t beat the salty, creamy taste of an oyster grown in our waters. Wild or farmed, the oyster is an iconic representative
of life along the Alabama coast. They are central to its heritage and culture, providing food, work, and a way of life to many of the folks in Bon Secour, Bayou La Batre, and other coastal communities. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts, eating oysters has always been a part of my life. It wasn’t until I moved to Dauphin Island that I discovered how good oysters could be and how important they are to the people who live and grew up here.

The state of our oyster fishery is a cause for concern, given dwindling wild populations. Alabama’s oyster reefs in Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, around Cedar Point, and in Mississippi Sound are suffering. Harvests were historically low in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, and surveys revealed so few harvestable oysters that no harvest was opened in 2018-2019. The factors underlying the reduced productivity are discussed by Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon in this issue, along with three separate measures AMRD is undertaking to better manage wild oyster populations.

And yet, there is great work being done to bring Alabama-grown oysters back to our tables. Gulf oysters grow rapidly and can reach maturity in as few as six months, compared to northeastern oysters which take four times that long. This simple fact provides a key for alternative methods of growing oysters. As you flip through the pages of this season’s Alabama Current Connection, learn about how oyster gardening, an outreach activity initially conceived to improve productivity on our wild reefs, has given rise to a new and burgeoning industry: off-bottom oyster aquaculture. Some former oyster gardeners and new investors have expanded operations, providing hatchery-reared, single-set oysters with a lovely shape and appearance to the premium half-shell market by count.

This issue is of particular importance to the Swann family. As the leader of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Dr. LaDon Swann has dedicated many years of oyster-related research as well as being a proponent of growing the State’s aquaculture industry. In the following pages you will learn about the Sea Grant’s significant role in the development and evolution of this exciting new industry.

When we moved to Alabama, did I ever imagine the little boy held tight on my lap as we plowed through Mobile Bay’s waves would grow up to become an oyster farmer? The answer is unequivocally NO. But today LaDon and I stand proud of our son, Gage, who has a bright future ahead of him, harvesting an oyster bounty, carving out a life on the water, and keeping our plates full of the succulent, Alabama grown oyster. My heart is happy

Alabama Current Connection
Spring 2020 Vo. XIV, Issue 1

The Oyster: An Icon of Life on the Alabama Gulf Coast (PDF, 6.2MB)


Posted on 02/28/20 at 04:54 PM Permalink

AMNS Calvert Volunteers Pull Privet in Three Mile Creek

AM/NS Calvert Volunteers Pulled Hundreds of Prive Seadlings

AM/NS Calvert Volunteers Pulled Hundreds of Privet Seedlings along Three Mile Creek | Photo by MBNEP

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program is partnering with volunteers from the Associates Program at AM/NS Calvert to address the invasive species problem in the Three Mile Creek Watershed. February 14th, they were out on The University of South Alabama's campus to pull up Chinese privet seedlings.

This area was identified because the privet here is small enough to hand pull, and we wanted to tackle the issue now before it becomes a major problem. If unchecked the area could become a privet “monoculture,” choking out all the native plant species which belong there.

Privet, Or Ligustrum, was introduced to the country by the landscaping industry in 1852 for use as an ornamental shrub. It's now a big concern for some of the same reasons it was so popular back then! It is vigorous and adapted to grows really well in both wet and dry conditions. One of the biggest problems is when birds eat the berries, their droppings provide a perfect matrix for germination and growth. As the seeds are dispersed, new saplings are generated potentially miles away from the source.

The area where we are working has a well-established native plant community including sweetbay magnolia, Virginia sweetspire, and laurel cherry. Without having to compete with invasives, natives will thrive and enhance the entire ecosystem, which depends on the food, habitat, and other services they provide.

MBNEP is very grateful to AM/NS Calvert stewards for their long-term commitment to the environment and for committing to spend one day a month volunteering as an important part of the much larger effort to manage invasive species within the watershed.

We are in need of volunteer groups to help with a variety of programs. If your group or team is interested in protecting and restoring our area waters, please get in touch with us!

Three Mile Creek Watershed Invasive Species Control Plan (PDF, 9.2MB)

Posted on 02/14/20 at 12:54 PM Permalink

Rain Barrel Program Teaches Coastal Residents How to Reduce Stormwater Impacts

Alabama Current Connection Newsletter, Summer 2017 Vol. XI, Issue1 
By Christian Miller, Watershed Management Coordinator, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program

Coastal Alabama receives more than five feet of rain per year. In urban areas, most of this water washes across hard, or impervious, surfaces, picking up and carrying pollutants into our waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers stormwater runoff to be the greatest threat to water quality in the United States. As more people continue to move to coastal areas, impervious surfaces and, therefore, volume and velocities of stormwater runoff continue to increase.

Rainwater harvesting, the practice of collecting and storing stormwater runoff from roofs and other hard surfaces for future use, is one practical way to reduce impacts associated with residential stormwater runoff. An inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000-square-foot roof yields over 600 gallons of water. Installing a rain barrel at your home is an inexpensive way to capture and store some of this water for later use. With a rain barrel, you'll not only help reduce stormwater runoff, but you'll also have a supply of free, non-chlorinated, soft water for washing your car, watering plants, and many other household uses.

Although rain barrels can be purchased through many retail outlets, they are generally expensive and don’t offer much in the way of education for the consumer.  Through an ongoing series of workshops, residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties have been learning how to construct and set up low-cost rain catchment systems at their home, along with other ways to conserve water and protect water quality along the coast. These workshops are continuously scheduled throughout the year, in coordination with partners in both coastal Alabama counties, and last approximately two hours.

The success of the program has been due in large part to the partnerships that have been formed. Local municipalities, including the cities of Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, and Mobile and the Town of Dauphin Island have all hosted rain barrel workshops. “These workshops have been a great help to us on the local level,” said Ashley Campbell, Environmental Programs Manager with the City of Daphne, “They provide an opportunity to inform the public of the issues we are facing related to stormwater management on the coast.”

The Prichard Drainage Study, funded by the MBNEP for Mobile County, and hydrologic modeling by Latif Kalin and Enis Baltaci at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences analyzed conditions in the Toulmins Spring Branch Watershed, a subwatershed of the greater Three Mile Creek Watershed, and examined impacts of stormwater runoff in the Bessemer community of Prichard. These studies recommend the installation of Low Impact Development features, including strategically located rain barrels, as a means of alleviating chronic urban flooding in the area. Follow-up outreach in the community also indicated a strong willingness to receive and use rain barrels at home. Currently, plans are underway to work with partners and homeowners on a pilot project to install approximately 30 rain barrels at homes and local residences around Toulmins Spring Branch. If successful, this project could be expanded throughout the community to significantly reduce the impacts of localized flooding throughout the subwatershed.

Posted on 03/19/18 at 02:35 PM Permalink

Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring in Mobile and Baldwin Counties

Whether you catch fish for fun or for a living, swim for exercise or for leisure, kayak or powerboat, or just like to gaze at its beauty, as a community, coastal Alabama is intimately intertwined with its water resources. We depend on healthy water resources to sustain our environment, economy, and quality of life. Understanding the health of Mobile Bay’s estuarine waters is paramount to ensure the experiences and opportunities afforded to you remain intact and accessible for the next generation. One of the best ways to determine the condition of a waterbody is to conduct regular monitoring. However, when you consider the numerous waterways in coastal Alabama, along with budget constraints and other limitations placed on professionals and government agencies, routinely monitoring every river and stream seems daunting at best. The good news, however, is a productive and cost efficient way to collect comprehensive water quality data already exists, all it needs is you. In watersheds around Mobile Bay, citizens from all walks of life volunteer to become certified Alabama Water Watch (AWW) monitors and test sites monthly.

Alabama is fortunate to have AWW. Since 1992, AWW has worked to educate, train, and empower people statewide to monitor water quality. To date, they have more than 82,000 data records from 2,300 sites throughout Alabama. Their protocols are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and include a robust Quality Assurance Plan. Trained AWW water quality monitors are able to test for basic water chemistry and/or for bacteria depending on their certification. Alabama Water Watch training is always free! Water chemistry training takes about six hours and bacteria training about two hours.

Two longstanding watershed groups, Dog River Clearwater Revival in Mobile County and Wolf Bay Watershed Watch in Baldwin County, are a wonderful example of how volunteer water quality monitors can make a difference in their communities. Collectively, these two groups have monitored more than 100 different sites over the past twenty years. Both groups not only monitor, but they use their data to advocate for their respective watersheds. Wolf Bay’s volunteer monitoring data was instrumental in having the watershed declared an Outstanding Alabama Water in 2007 (Alabama’s highest designation). Dog River uses volunteer data to document water quality impacts from urban runoff and sewage overflows. Other watersheds with active citizen monitoring efforts include Weeks Bay, D’Olive, Little Lagoon, and recently established Fowl River.

Currently, water quality monitors are needed as part of the comprehensive watershed planning for 31 priority watersheds in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Driven by science, these plans will guide future restoration and management decisions for decades to come. Citizen science has an important role in watershed planning. Each plan calls for water quality monitoring to track the success or failure of implemented planning strategies, or to determine where additional focus is needed. The importance of volunteer monitoring and the benefit of your involvement cannot be overstated. If you or someone you know is interested in a fun and meaningful science-based volunteer activity, consider becoming a local water quality monitor. You do not have to live on the water to participate. What it boils down to is we need you. The success of any volunteer water quality monitoring program is dependent on the volunteers who will offer their time to better our collective understanding of water quality.

To learn more about how you can become an AWW volunteer or to register for a workshop, visit www.alabamawaterwatch.org. If you or a group is interested in volunteering as a water quality monitor for the comprehensive watershed plans, contact MBNEP.

Posted on 01/20/17 at 09:13 AM Permalink

Homer Singleton, AWW trainer & monitor extraordinaire!

Article published by Alabama Water Watch
Click here to view

Homer Singleton attended his first AWW workshop in Elberta, Alabama in the Wolf Bay Watershed in 2003.  In October 2007, with four years of monitoring under his belt, Homer got certified as both a water chemistry and bacteriological monitoring trainer.  Since that time he has conducted or helped conduct 74 workshops, 22 recertification sessions, and has issued more than 371 certifications to over 186 volunteer monitors –  WOW- what an impact!. In recognition of his outstanding service as an AWW trainer, Alabama Water Watch was honored to present Homer with the 2013 Trainer of the Year Award.

Continue Reading

Posted on 11/09/16 at 08:28 AM Permalink

Christian Miller, AWW trainer & supporter extraordinaire!

An Alabama Water Watch News Article

Christian Miller has been working in extension/outreach activities since 2004, first in Florida, and then in south Alabama. Christian joined the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium outreach team as an extension specialist in 2009. He works out of the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center in Mobile, Alabama, and his work focuses on nonpoint source pollution. He serves as the Alabama- Mississippi Clean Marina Program coordinator and the Coastal Alabama Clean Water Partnership facilitator. Along with all of this great work, he found time to become an AWW trainer too! Since becoming certified as an AWW trainer in 2014, Christian has coordinated numerous trainings along Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast.

Dixie Bar Redfish

Let’s get to know Christian a bit better:

1. Where do you call home?

I live in Mobile, AL. I work as an Extension Specialist with the Auburn University Marine Extension & Research Center in partnership with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, and the Alabama Clean Water Partnership. I’ve lived in lots of places, but I’ve always been drawn to the Gulf Coast, and the Mobile area in particular. Our proximity to the water and all of the unique cultural experiences and natural resources we have at our fingertips make this a great place to call home.

2. What stream, river, lake, bay, bayou is your favorite water-spot?

Alabama is blessed with so many unique waterways it’s impossible to name just one. I’ve had the opportunity to fish/boat/wade a lot of our coastal streams, rivers, bays, and bayous. The Tensaw River Delta is a pretty special place. I’ve also greatly enjoyed time spent on the waters of Three Mile Creek, Halls Mill Creek, Bayou Sara, Fowl River, Wolf Bay, Little Lagoon, and Mobile Bay. Also, growing up in Talladega, I’ve got a lot of special memories of times spent on waterways in northern reaches of the State including: Little River Canyon, Lake Logan Martin, and many of the unnamed tribs that snake through the Talladega National Forest. If left with just one, I’d have to go with my favorite fishing spots which lie along Dixey Bar on the Gulf-fronting side of Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Mobile-Tensaw River Delta

3. What water recreation/sports do you enjoy most?

Fishing, Kayaking, boating, pretty much anything that involves being out on the water. Some of my earliest memories are fishing with my grandfather on the Peace River in southwest Florida. Those earliest memories of time spent on the water are what pushed me into the sciences, and more specifically natural resource management, as a career.

Bayou La Batre

4. What got you interested in Alabama Water Watch?

My introduction to Alabama Water Watch came during my undergraduate Ecology course at Jacksonville State University. My professor, Dr. Frank Romano, trained all his students in the water chemistry and benthic macroinvertebrate methods in several tribs to Tallasseehatche Creek that flow through the Jacksonville area. Currently, in coastal Alabama we’ve been working with local watershed groups, including the Wolf Bay Watershed Watch and Dog River Clear Water Revival, to boost the numbers of active volunteer water quality monitors across both Mobile and Baldwin counties. As we continue to develop and implement watershed management plans, it is critical to engage local citizens in efforts to monitor the success of coastal restoration efforts through programs like AWW.

AWW water chemistry training at Bayfront Park on Mobile Bay in Daphne, AL

5. What are your biggest challenges/issues in your favorite watershed?

I live in the Dog River Watershed which drains over 50,000 acres, much of which are urbanized areas of the City of Mobile. As you would expect, most of Dog River and its tributaries are experiencing issues associated with excess stormwater runoff. There are multiple segments throughout the Watershed impaired for low dissolved oxygen, pathogenic bacteria, and sedimentation. Litter is also a major issue, and impacts all of our coastal waterways. A host of local partners are united in efforts to raise awareness of stormwater pollution through the Create a Clean Water Future campaign (http://www.cleanwaterfuture.com).

Tensaw River looking toward downtown Mobile

6. Do you have some ‘lessons learned’ that you could pass on to the rest of us relative to watershed stewardship?

Stay engaged and involved. We have been using citizen water quality monitoring as a means to engage coastal stakeholders in implementing actions to improve water quality and natural resources through our watershed plans. Citizens like to know that what they are doing, through collecting and reporting water quality data, is making a difference.

Christian having a good day on Lake Logan Martin

Posted on 09/23/16 at 10:38 AM Permalink

Alabama Coastal Comprehensive Plan (ACCP): A Guide for Resiliency

By Eliska Morgan, Coastal Restoration Coordinator, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resoruces

     As reported in a previous issue of Coastal Connection, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District (USACE), the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) to develop a constituent-informed, science-based coastal comprehensive plan to strengthen the economic, environmental, and social resilience of coastal Alabama for current and future generations. 

     By maximizing the use of resources in support of this comprehensive planning effort, the ACCP will create a roadmap for local, state and federal officials as they seek to:

  • reduce the susceptibility of residential, commercial and public infrastructure to storm damages, climate change, and sea level rise;
  • improve habitats for freshwater, coastal, and marine resources to support commercial and recreational harvest;
  • assist in the restoration of natural and human-made features damaged by erosion or unwise land use or development decisions;
  • promote long-term erosion reduction during future natural hazards; and
  • promote diversification of economies within the two coastal counties as a means of economic resilience from future hazards.

     As part of the initial development of the ACCP, nineteen visioning sessions were conducted last year – seventeen with targeted focus groups and two with a broader public audience.  Using input received in the visioning sessions, a survey is being developed by the MBNEP to further identify and classify priority issues.  When given the opportunity, we hope you will take the time to participate in the MBNEP survey this summer, as this process will generate valuable information for the USACE to develop vulnerability and adaptability assessments. 

     It is not too late to share your coastal vision on the ACCP website at accp.usace.army.mil.  You may also go here to get the latest update on the ACCP as well as to view comments received thus far on an interactive map. 

Posted on 07/18/16 at 01:11 PM Permalink

Press Release: Fowl River Restoration & Dredging Project Set for Later This Month

(Download PDF)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fowl River Restoration & Dredging Project Set for Later This Month

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program  
Contact: Rick Frederick (251) 380-7941
Email: rfrederick@mobilebaynep
Website: www.mobilebaynep.com         

The restoration of the erosion-impacted and storm-vulnerable northern tip of Mon Louis Island is set to get underway following a June 8 pre-construction meeting. What was proposed and funded through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund in late 2013 as an emergency project and a race to complete before a catastrophic tropical weather event has finally been permitted and contracted. Mon Louis Island Tip Orion Marine Construction has been hired to implement this project, designed by Thompson Engineering with assistance from the Mobile Bay NEP and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Operations Division. The project will include the construction of a continuous rock breakwater along the footprint of the historic 1997 shoreline, subsequent hydraulic dredging to borrow material from the Fowl River Open Water Disposal Area (FROWDA) to create four acres of salt marsh behind the breakwater, and maintenance dredging of the shallow and neglected Fowl River navigation channel to replace the borrowed material.

Project implementation was delayed by design challenges and permitting. The original intention was to borrow material directly from the navigation channel, but its sediments were silty and of insufficient quality for marsh creation. After considering upland and upstream sources of suitable material, core samples obtained from the FROWDA in early 2015 were revealed to be sandy enough for marsh creation. State Senator Bill Hightower secured State Deepwater Horizon Impact Funds to undertake maintenance dredging to restore channel navigability and provide a source of material to replace what was borrowed and restore water quality conditions along the Bay bottom. Combining the two dredging efforts provides cost efficiencies, improved access for recreational boaters, and ensures no negative impacts to water quality on the bottom.

Mon Louis Island Tip Restoration PlanA Corps permit was finally issued in March, 2016, allowing the project to go to forward. Orion’s bid was low enough to include maintenance dredging to an 11-foot depth, three feet deeper than standard Corps protocols. This will ensure a longer period of navigability through this inlet during challenging economic times when maintenance dredging cannot be expected. After Orion completes the described scope of work before the end of 2016, the created wetland area will be left to consolidate and settle for six months before it’s graded and planted. The project will double the area currently providing nursery and refuge habitat for fish, shellfish, and wildlife.

Posted on 06/10/16 at 03:20 PM Permalink