The Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program (PPBEP) announced on Friday, April 21, 2023 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded $24 million for three projects in the Pensacola and Perdido Bay Watersheds, including complete restoration designs for the City of Orange Beach’s Waterfront Park Living Shoreline, Gilchrist Island, Robinson Island, and Walker Island.
The NOAA awards include $10.9 million for the Pensacola Bay Oyster Restoration Initiative, $12.8 million for the Perdido Watershed Initiative, and $300,000 for the EscaRosa Oyster Shell Recycling Program.
“This is a transformational opportunity to advance coastal restoration in our region that would normally take decades to implement. We are incredibly thankful to NOAA for seeing the value of these collaborative initiatives, and to our partners for their commitment to seeing them through. These projects are key to implementing our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan and the long-term recovery of our estuaries,” said Matt Posner, Executive Director of the Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program.
Funding for NOAA’s Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grant Program was made available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, providing unprecedented funding to restore habitat and strengthen resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems.
“Thanks to NOAA and the project team for all the hard work that went into making these projects a reality. This is a great example of working across state boundaries to accomplish large-scale watershed-based goals. We look forward to implementing these great projects that will enhance resiliency across the watersheds and provide additional resources to enhance the natural environment, which is the foundation of our communities and economy,” said Woody Speed, Chairman of the Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program Board.
The Perdido Watershed Initiative, to be administered by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Alabama, aims to enhance ecosystem and community resilience in the Perdido watershed in both Alabama and Florida through the integrated planning, implementation, and monitoring of multiple innovative restoration approaches and techniques. Specifically, the project will:
- Complete a shoreline habitat vulnerability assessment
- Update and synchronize a Living Shoreline Suitability Model
- Enhance community capacity to integrate Nature-based Solutions projects
- Complete restoration designs for the City of Orange Beach’s Waterfront Park Living Shoreline, Gilchrist Island, Robinson Island, Walker Island, Lillian Swamp, and Bronson Field Living Shoreline and Hydrologic Restoration
- Implement a Living Shoreline Cost Share Program, the City’s Waterfront Park Living Shoreline, Robinson Island Restoration, and the Rainwater Preserve Stewardship and Hydrologic Restoration
PPBEP will work with TNC in Alabama to implement the project, serving as a subawardee and lead implementer of the Living Shoreline Cost Share Program and design of the Bronson Field Living Shoreline and Hydrologic Restoration Project. Partners include the City of Orange Beach, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi State University, Troy University, University of South Alabama, and Moffat and Nichol.
“It truly takes a village to enact change and to create better outcomes for the people and places that matter to us all. The depth and breadth of this project and the seamless collaboration of our partners is what made the difference”, said Judy Haner, Marine Programs Director for TNC in Alabama.
The Pensacola Bay Oyster Restoration Initiative, to be administered by PPBEP, establishes a transformational vision to restore 600-hectares (1,482 acres, the size of approximately 1,482 football fields) of oyster habitat in the Pensacola Bay System over the next ten years to enhance ecosystem resilience, rebuild a sustainable fishery, and improve economic vitality. Specifically, the project will:
- Design and permit 600-hectares (1,482 acres) of oyster habitat restoration
- Construct Phase I of the Initiative, targeting up to 100 ha. of oyster habitat restoration (the size of about 247 football fields)
- Complete a sediment load assessment to aid in prioritizing oyster restoration locations
- Design and permit the Sandy Hollow Gully Restoration Project in Santa Rosa County that will reduce direct sediment inputs into the Escambia River
- Implement a Living Shoreline Cost Share Program
TNC in Florida, Santa Rosa County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have partnered with PPBEP to implement the Initiative.
“The Nature Conservancy is grateful to NOAA for funding this visionary project and to our partners and the community, working together to support the Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program. This project is an unprecedented and transformational approach to revitalize the area’s oysters and estuary at the speed and scale needed for recovery and sustainability of oyster habitat, oyster fisheries, and their ecosystem services never before seen in the Gulf of Mexico”, said Anne Birch, Oceans and Coasts Strategy Director for TNC in Florida.
“It's an honor to be part of the PPBEP and the great work the Program is doing for watersheds in Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa, and Baldwin counties. This grant will make a great direct impact on our waterways and will also help with inland gullies and other point sources of soil erosion”, said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Colten Wright.
Additionally, in Alabama, $14.6 million will go toward Coffee Island restoration in Mobile County.
“This is a huge win for Alabama and those who poured their collective hard work into aligning these two projects to meet NOAA’s goals,” TNC in Alabama State Director Mitch Reid said. “We look forward to getting both initiatives off the ground and thank everyone at NOAA for seeing the impact these bring to Alabama’s ecosystem.”
“The magnitude of the amount of NOAA grant funds coming to Alabama is impressive, and we are proud of TNC and all Coffee Island and Perdido Watershed partners for their collaboration and shared vision in bringing such huge wins to our state,” Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Chris Blankenship said.