In a one-time, capacity building grant process, Gulf Power donated nearly $1 million to community organizations across the Florida Panhandle. As recipients of a $35,000 grant, the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) utilized the funds to build living shorelines across homeowner sites in the Choctawhatchee Bay.
Living shorelines are a form of green infrastructure, using reef breakwaters in the shallows to increase oyster habitat while reducing the wave energy hitting the shore. Just behind the breakwaters, newly planted smooth cordgrass and other vegetation holds the sediment in place, allowing the shore to build back out again. Unlike rip rap and seawalls, the living shorelines create new homes for a range of native critters, including fish, crustaceans, and birds.
“What happens along the shoreline affects water quality here in the bay,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA, “Erosion from public and private land leads to loss of wildlife habitat and increased sediment in our waterways.”
“The key to our AMPLIFY grants model is that they help the organization maximize its operations and make improvements,” said Jennifer McFarren in Gulf Power News, deputy manager for the Gulf Power Foundation. “Where some grants may pay for new technology or strategic planning, the AMPLIFY grants are geared toward improving the organization so that it can be more effective and efficient in its efforts.”
CBA permitted the living shorelines, then teamed up with volunteers and the AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards to build the limestone rock breakwaters and plant smooth cordgrass. The limestone breakwaters are constructed in short half-moon shapes with five feet of water between each structure, allowing continuous flow between the shoreline and the Choctawhatchee Bay.
“We can usually see a difference right away,” says McDowell, “The sand begins to accumulate and the grasses we plant take root.”
CBA has been building living shorelines for nearly ten years, and homeowner sites across the Choctawhatchee Bay have successfully fended off storm surges and hurricane-wave conditions. While a living shoreline is not right in every location, CBA hopes the initial successes will inspire more homeowners to choose green infrastructure options.
With the $35,000 Gulf Power grant, CBA has built 600 linear feet of living shoreline at three different sites, with a goal of reaching 1000 linear feet at five locations. In the future, they hope to receive additional grants to continue their work at more locations around the watershed.
To learn more, visit basinalliance.org.