Preserving The Future
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Protecting a nationally recognized estuary in a rapidly developing coastal area can be a bit like putting together a puzzle where the pieces are constantly being shuffled and changed, the challenge faced by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Managed by the ADCNR State Lands Division (SLD) and funded in part through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Weeks Bay Reserve is part of a network of thirty protected estuaries around the country. The Reserve System was established to provide research, education, and outreach related to understanding the function and management of estuaries, which provide important ecosystem services such as protection from storm surge, removal of nutrients and pollutants from coastal waters, and serving as a nursery ground for recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish.
Will Underwood, Coastal Section Administrator with the ADCNR SLD, said that part of the long-term strategy for maintaining the health of the waters of Weeks Bay includes willing-seller land acquisition.
“Successful acquisition of land in a rapidly growing area such as Baldwin County requires a great deal of teamwork with partners,” said Underwood. “We have been fortunate to have access to a variety of funding sources over the last decade – including competitive funding from NOAA, support from the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust, and funding from the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Alabama Trustee Implementation Group.”
“The area is growing so rapidly; it’s important to protect areas of shoreline with significant ecological and aesthetic benefits,” he said. “We can see the river as it looked almost 100 years ago.”
Underwood said the South Alabama Land Trust played a crucial role in the purchase of these most recent tracts, “SALT was a vital partner in bringing these acquisitions to closing.”
Underwood said the Weeks Bay Reserve team also worked closely with ADCNR’s Deepwater Horizon Restoration Section, headed by Dr. Amy Hunter.
“Amy’s team did the lion’s share of the work behind the scenes to make these acquisitions happen,” Underwood said. “There was a lot of environmental review. It was a long process to get each parcel finished. We are grateful for their hard work and for the support of Commissioner Chris Blankenship in supporting these important additions to the Weeks Bay Reserve.”
Commissioner Blankenship added, “With the rapid growth and development we are seeing in Baldwin County, when a parcel becomes available for conservation, it takes everybody coming together and pooling all our resources to make all these acquisitions a reality. We are also very appreciative of the landowners and their families who demonstrated a commitment to land conservation and stewardship by making these valuable coastal properties available to ADCNR.”
Visit www.outdooralabama.com/lands/weeks-bay-reserve for information about the Weeks Bay visitor center, the pitcher plant bog and education programs available.
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