A Southern Company grant and hungry oyster eaters are saving a shoreline and valuable public and private property.

 

Jill Cleaver, Keep Pensacola Beautiful assistant director, loads 20-pound bags of oyster shells onto a trailer with the help of Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees and a U.S. Navy volunteer.
Jill Cleaver, Keep Pensacola Beautiful assistant director, loads 20-pound bags of oyster shells onto a trailer with the help of Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees and a U.S. Navy volunteer.

If you enjoy eating oysters at local eateries, chances are some of your shucks are being used to help shore up a badly eroded shoreline on Bayou Grande.

Discarded oyster shells are being bagged up, 20 pounds per bag, on a vacant lot on West U.S. 98 to be used in the construction of 39 oyster reefs. The reefs, along with the future installation of 11,300 square feet of native, salt-tolerant vegetation, will help create a living shoreline along the waterfront between Gordon and Wayne avenues in Pensacola.

On Jan. 21, members from Keep Pensacola Beautiful, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Jason Gramley, a volunteer from Naval Air Technical Training Center at Pensacola Naval Air Station, loaded 600 bags of oyster shells into a trailer and hauled them to the bayou’s shoreline to build three of the reefs.

“This is the first stage of several stages of the restoration project,” said Zachary Schang, environmental specialist with FDEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “We start out building near-shore oyster reefs and, eventually, we’ll plant intertidal grasses to restore several different types of near-shore habitat.”

Magdalene Berger, with Keep Pensacola Beautiful, hauls bags full of oyster shucks collected from area restaurants into Bayou Grande to build reefs aimed at restoring the eroded shoreline. Some 171 tons of shells have been collected so far.
Magdalene Berger, with Keep Pensacola Beautiful, hauls bags full of oyster shucks collected from area restaurants into Bayou Grande to build reefs aimed at restoring the eroded shoreline. Some 171 tons of shells have been collected so far.

The project is being funded with a $27,150 Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grant awarded through a partnership between Gulf Power parent Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coastal Program has also contributed funds.

“Also, the homeowners themselves are putting up their personal money for work along the shoreline, which is outside the scope of our contribution,” said Schang. “For example, the county wanted the failing bulkheads removed in conjunction with the project and that is being funded and carried out by the property owners.”

The Five Star grant program encourages environmental stewardship and community partnerships to protect vital habitats.

Living shorelines are proving to restore marine habitats, and be a more sustainable and natural way to solve shoreline erosion, as opposed to the traditional method of installing seawalls or bulkheads, which have only worsened erosion problems, Schang explained.

“It allows for the shoreline function to continue naturally, even if erosion exists,” he said.

The Bayou Grande living shoreline is unique in that it is a partnership between private property owners and Escambia County Marine Resources. Other similar projects, like Project GreenShores on Bayfront Parkway don’t involve private property owners.

“This was partially county property — a right of way — and it eroded away into the private property,” Schang pointed out. “Escambia County and the property owners teamed up with us to solve the problem.”

Workers haul 20-pound bags full of oyster shucks into Bayou Grande to construct one of 39 reefs that will create a living shoreline aimed reclaiming eroded Escambia County and privately owned property.
Workers haul 20-pound bags full of oyster shucks into Bayou Grande to construct one of 39 reefs that will create a living shoreline aimed reclaiming eroded Escambia County and privately owned property.

It wasn’t a quick road to the fix.

Property owners along the 1,000 feet of shoreline in the project area first approached the county about the problem six years ago. DEP joined the dialogue four years ago, and it took until last year to secure the proper state permitting to install the living shoreline. The project got the needed funding when Keep Pensacola Beautiful was awarded the Five Start Grant in 2014.

“We started this project collecting shells in January 2013 and collected until January of this year,” said Jill Cleaver, assistant director of Keep Pensacola Beautiful. “We collected 192 tons from restaurants on Pensacola Beach —Grand Marlin, Peg Leg Pets, Red Fish Blue Fish, Shaggy’s and from Shux Oyster Bar in downtown Pensacola. That shows how many oysters are being eaten here.”

A key factor of the Five Star grant is the community partnerships and volunteer contribution match resulting with each project.

An army of volunteers has been critical to progress made thus far on the project, Cleaver explained. Just collecting, drying out and bagging the shells on a lot owned by Pensacola State College has been a monumental job. As of November 2015, volunteers logged 1,549 service hours working on the project.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteers helping out since summer … volunteers from the U.S. Navy, Pine Forest High School NJROTC, AmeriCorps students and college students from Missouri,” she said mentioning a few. “They have been a huge support.”

Crescent-shaped reefs make up the first stage of the living shoreline in Bayou Grande. 11,300 square feet of native plants will be installed to complete the project.
Crescent-shaped reefs make up the first stage of the living shoreline in Bayou Grande. 11,300 square feet of native plants will be installed to complete the project.

Education is another important component of the grant.

“There are several local schools involved with propagating grasses for that particular project and several of the classes also conduct field biodiversity samples, as well as conduct studies on water quality as part of the Bringing Back the Bayous program,” said Schang. “All of it ties in together, but the opportunity to branch out is endless. We’re building research projects every time we lay a bag.”

John Blackwell, who started out working at Gulf Power 31 years ago and now works for SouthernLINC, is one of several property owners who will benefit from the project.

He stood on the shoreline behind his home watching Cleaver and her team haul bags into the water where a DEP employee stacked the bags to make a crescent shaped reef several feet long.

Blackwell pointed out how erosion is chewing away his waterfront property. During recent winter storms, wave action swallowed so much of his shoreline; it took out a sidewalk to his pier and exposed the root systems of giant oaks.

“It’s exciting to finally have construction going on,” he said. “I’ve been living here for five years; we’ve lost a lot of shoreline within that time. I’m thankful to the Southern Company for their contribution to this project and the environment. This is a good demonstration of the company’s commitment to protecting the environment.”

For details on the project or to volunteer, visit www.KeepPensacolaBeautiful.org.

View details about Southern Company’s involvement in the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration program.