Coastal Alabama: linking restoration with technology

Coastal Alabama project selected Prize for Progress finalist


The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Alabama project was selected as a finalist of the Prize for Progress award sponsored by the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP). The project, titled “Coastal Alabama: restoration of oyster reefs and a coastal defense app brings communities together to address adaptation,” was judged for its effectiveness, significance and innovation in the area of climate adaptation. Below is an excerpt of the project as submitted to ASAP. The winner of the award will be announced at this year’s National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, Missouri.


Restoration of oyster reefs and a coastal defense app brings communities together to address adaptation

The Nature Conservancy and a coalition of partners are restoring coastal Alabama one mile at a time. Called 100-1,000 Restore Coastal Alabama, the project intends to build 100 miles of oyster reefs that will create the conditions needed to plant, support and promote more than 1,000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass. Restore Coastal Alabama is enhancing the natural environment of Mobile Bay, supporting multiple ecosystem services and viable adaptation solutions through community-based restoration efforts. These services include providing habitat for oyster larvae to settle and colonize, serving as nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish, stabilizing sediments and decreasing turbidity, and dampening wave energy while decreasing coastal erosion.

There are ten recently constructed sites that are actively being monitored in Mobile Bay, projects that bring communities together to discuss and plan for the future of the Bay while deploying 3,295 concrete reef balls, 489 reef blocks, 600 meters of cages, 14,000 oyster castles and 190,000 bags of shell that provide the substrate for future oyster reefs. The sites range in size from 15 meters to 1,500 meters in length for a total of approximately 3,600 meters, covering just over 2 miles of coastline. In the process of planting structures for oysters to grow on, we have engaged with 1,500 volunteers who put in over 10,500 hours of labor.

The location and design of these emerging oyster reefs are determined through stakeholder engagement and developing partnerships. They are also identified through the use of the Coastal Resilience web-based mapping tool. A core feature of the tool is the open source applications (apps) that examine coastal hazards in relation to social, ecological, economic assets as well as nature-based, coastal engineering solutions. The Coastal Defense app in Coastal Resilience identifies the coastal protection value of existing reef and wetland habitats and allows users to design restoration and adaptation projects. In specific, Coastal Defense helps to: (1) identify areas that may be at risk of coastal erosion and inundation from wave action and storm surge; (2) interactively examine the role of coastal habitats in attenuating wave height and energy; and (3) determine appropriate adaptation strategies that incorporate green (habitats) and grey (seawalls and other man-made structures) infrastructure trade-offs. This app supports the identification of restorable sites as well as models potential future scenarios so communities can understand the projected coastal protection benefits as reefs, marshes and seagrass beds grow.

Through active and ongoing restoration efforts we are creating viable, nature-based adaptation solutions in Mobile Bay, Alabama. As recovery continues through the next several decades this effort will improve Mobile Bay beyond the conditions before the 2010 oil spill. Mobile Bay will be ahead by 100 miles of oyster reef and 1,000-plus acres of marsh and seagrass by physically constructing reefs and promoting the development of coastal habitat. Designing, implementing and promoting these living shorelines through the 100-1,000 project has provided critical job creation and community involvement to support and sustain the vision of a better coastal Alabama.