GULF SHORES — The next step in the Little Lagoon restoration project could be underway. A motion was presented at the Nov. 6 city council work session to conduct restoration and research as a …
GULF SHORES — The next step in the Little Lagoon restoration project could be underway.
A motion was presented at the Nov. 6 city council work session to conduct restoration and research as a part of the city's RESTORE grant.
The grant, which was previously approved at a June 2022 council meeting, is a part of a project in conjunction with Auburn University Fisheries, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Mississippi State Extension Service to improve the overall water quality and environment of the lagoon.
While the total grant amounts to just under $6 million, this portion of the project would award approximately $1.9 million to the university partners to conduct research related to the project, specifically to Auburn University for shellfish restoration, Mississippi State University for shoreline restoration and the University of South Alabama hydrodynamic modeling portions.
According to documents, the $1.9 million for this portion have already been included in the city's 2024 budget.
About the project
The project is expected to last five years and will also include improving hydrologic connectivity of the existing canal system, conversion of approximately 200 individual septic systems to municipal sewer, marsh and seagrass restoration, ecological research and long-term water quality monitoring.
According to documents, the project will be fully reimbursable through the grant, which distributes money from civil and administrative penalties from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to states affected by the incident. Since the lagoon was directly affected by the spill, the $5.9 million grant for the Little Lagoon Restoration Project was approved.
According to Dan Bond, environmental and grants coordinator, the city will be partnering with Auburn University Fisheries to carry out one of the project's goals, which is to improve the water quality to the point that it can be classified for the harvest of oysters by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
"It's not classified that way right now, but at that point we could start using oysters to build reefs and do other restoration projects," Bond said. "We are really going to learn a lot about oysters in the lagoon, and apparently they grow faster in a lagoon than anywhere else."
Additionally, the project will also build on the current oyster gardening program featured at Gulf Shores High School.
"Auburn University fisheries has worked with our high school oyster gardening program for years now, and this project is going to build on it and create what they call an 'oyster park,'" Bond said. "The Auburn staff will come down and operate this facility to grow oysters out to about one to two inches in length, and those oysters will be harvested throughout Alabama for other restoration projects."
According to presented documents, while the city will be administering the project funding, they will also be in collaboration with the Little Lagoon Preservation Society and Gulf Shores High School's Sustainability Academy to develop future opportunities for volunteer involvement and public outreach and education.
"Our students are also going to have the opportunity to work with some real Auburn scientists," Bond said.
Mississippi State University
Bond said another component of the project is an opportunity for local property owners to work with Mississippi State University to build a living shoreline on their property.
"This will go in front of private property owners, and people can work with Dr. Sparks and his team to learn about the process and permits, and the program will provide materials for Dr. Sparks to construct these living shorelines," Bond said.
Bond said these living shoreline projects would be smaller and use a softer approach to create habitat along the shoreline around as much of the lagoon as possible.
"This will be a three-year project, and hopefully people can still use their property and create habitat at the same time," Bond said.
University of South Alabama
"Dr. Brett Webb is an engineering professor at South who has done a lot of work already monitoring the pass," Bond said. "His work will be expanding the model he has already started in the lagoon, so we have a real good understanding of how water moves around the lagoon. It can be coordinated with other parameters like nutrients and hypoxia so we can get a good idea of the lagoon ecology and help with management decisions going forward."
Bond also said the university will work with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to plant grass throughout the lagoon and conduct research associated with that.
"There are going to be a ton of research papers and graduate projects that will come out over the next four- or five-year period," Bond said. "We are really excited about engaging with these universities and do some great research and restoration with this RESTORE money."
This motion was set to be voted on at the Nov. 13 city council meeting.