Gulf Shores, Ala. (Nov. 19, 2015) – Representatives for Alabama Gulf Seafood and conservation officials say $21 million in new funding for Gulf restoration projects in Alabama coastal waters will accelerate recovery efforts in a delicate ecosystem that was imperiled by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago.
The funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will advance five priority conservation projects and includes a $12.5 million grant to expand and enhance an artificial reef program that’s improving habitats for coastal Alabama fish species. Governor Robert Bentley announced the NFWF funding earlier this month.
Chris Blankenship, program administrator for Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission and director of Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD), said expanding the artificial reef project will provide additional benefits through the creation of new habitat. The funding gives a major boost to a comprehensive, long-range artificial reef plan developed by AMRD in conjunction with the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA).
“The Alabama Wildlife Federation made a significant investment in the Alabama Artificial Reef Plan because we knew it represented a project that was good for the state’s marine resources and good for the economy,” AWF President Angus R. Cooper III said. “The new investment the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is making to help implement the artificial habitat plan will amplify its many positive aspects.”
Blakeley Ellis, CCA’s Alabama executive director, said the state’s artificial habitat creation program represents an all-encompassing plan to shape the future of Alabama’s inshore, nearshore and offshore artificial reefs.
“Here in Alabama, we’re proud to have one of the most complete and well-designed artificial reef programs in the world,” Ellis said. “Receiving this significant new funding for this program will allow Alabama to raise the bar even higher.”
The new funding for the artificial reef project will support extensive research to monitor how these ecological communities are utilized and examine the overall stability and durability of habitat enhancement projects. Research will be conducted by the University of South Alabama and AMRD scientists.
Another Alabama restoration project being advanced by the new round of NFWF funding is year two of a fisheries and ecosystem monitoring program that is administered by the Alabama Marine Resources Division. This $2.1 million program is collecting valuable data and conducting research that will inform and improve fisheries management decisions.
This funding comes from the NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, established as part of court settlements with BP and Transocean related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident. The new funding represents the third round of payments from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
Projects receiving funding were developed in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and federal agencies.
“Alabama is already recognized as having the best artificial reef program in the country,” Blankenship said. “While we’ve already had success in our efforts, we will not rest on our laurels but will continue to be proactive in creating new habitat and economic opportunities for Coastal Alabama. I plan to enjoy fishing on the new and refurbished reefs in 2017 and beyond. I hope you will as well.”
BACKGROUND ON ARTIFICAL REEF PROGRAM
The Alabama Marine Resources Artificial Reef Program received initial funding from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. The comprehensive program includes inshore, nearshore and offshore reefs that will assist species growth and development.
Details of the program include:
- Offshore reefs formed by two ships, 140 “super pyramids” standing 25 feet, and other available materials.
- Nearshore reefs formed by 250 6-foot pyramids and eco reefs in the Vernon Minton Nearshore Reef Zones south of Baldwin County.
- The creation of a new reef zone with 600 pyramids between six and nine miles offshore once permits are granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- The development of a new 20-to-40 acre low relief juvenile fish reef south of Sand Island Lighthouse to assist in the protection and growth of red snapper and other reef fish less than 1 year old.
- The replenishment of 10 or more inshore reefs constructed around 15 years ago through the introduction of new material to enhance the habitat.
- The creation of two new inshore reefs including the Point Clear reef west of the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, with plans for other reef sites.