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This program to restore Alabama’s coastal environment and economy is expanding

A $7 million restoration project spawned in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is expanding.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the RESTORE Council (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revised Economies of the Gulf Coast States) has announced they will spend an additional $11.9 million to continue the work of the GulfCorps program through 2025. The program, created in 2017 originally as a four-year joint project of The Nature Conservancy and NOAA, aims to restore the natural features and habitats on critical conservation lands in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

“We appreciate the RESTORE Council’s continued support of GulfCorps, our award-winning program employing young adults to restore habitat in their coastal communities impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” said Paul Doremus, NOAA Fisheries deputy assistant administrator for operations. “Corps members’ work increases the Gulf’s economic and environmental resilience and gives them skills and training to prepare for long-term natural resource careers.”

GulfCorps helps Alabama’s coastal environment from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

GulfCorps employs multiple teams of young adults in each Gulf state with support of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), the Corps Network and the RESTORE Council. SCA crews plant native vegetation, remove invasive species, restore shorelines and provide access to the public by maintaining trails, repairing boardwalks and removing debris.

“We have different crew members that grew up right here in Mobile and they don’t even realize all of this wonderful habitat is around them,” said Larissa Graham, Gulf Coast Teams manager for SCA. “They’ve been down to the coast and they haven’t even seen different wetlands and different habitats like that, so it’s really an eye-opening experience for them.”

Since the work began in 2018, SCA crews have restored more than 3,000 acres of coastal habitats, including the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research ReserveMeaher State Park, the Audubon Sanctuary on Dauphin Island and sites owned by Mobile and Orange Beach, Mobile County and the state of Alabama. Katie Arnold, GulfCorps program coordinator for SCA, said crew members and leaders are trained and educated, providing them with marketable skills for jobs in the restoration economy taking shape in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It brings a smile to my face because I think back of the memories when I was a crew leader,” Arnold said. “Being out there for hours and the sweat – especially in a bog environment when it’s 90 degrees in the summer months, making sure those plants are easily visible so a field trip can come in there and be educated on why that environment is being preserved … that’s what we’re striving for.”

SCA is a joint partner in other coastal habitat restoration projects, such as an effort to restore, protect and maintain the 60-acre Alta Fish River Nature Preserve in Baldwin County. That project is coordinated by the South Alabama Land Trust with help from SCA, Baldwin County Sewer ServiceMobile County Wildlife and Conservation Association, the University of West Florida’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Nature Connect. The work is funded through a grant by Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program, a collaborative effort of multiple partners, including Alabama Power and its parent Southern Company, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Preserving this property is going to prevent a lot of erosion,” Arnold said. “That little piece of land is really making a difference.”

Graham said the work also benefits the crew members.

“What we want to see at the end of the season is that they go off and do some good work with a different organization,” Graham said. “I tell members all the time, ‘That is the only job where they’re going to help you find your next job,’ because at the end of the day we just want to educate them and inspire them to become our next generation of conservation leaders. That’s our goal.”

If you know a young adult who would be interested in joining the SCA to work on a GulfCorps crew, contact the SCA at thesca.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)