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Volunteers Rebuild Ocean Reefs in ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

Volunteers Rebuild Ocean Reefs in ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

I’ve probably heard the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Sweet Home Alabama” a zilspilllion times in my life high school dances, wedding receptions, and on the radio.

But hearing it last weekend along the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama, surrounded by more than 500 volunteers, it struck a new chord.

Watch a video from the event!

Last week I traveled from my home in Seattle to Mobile Bay to help The Nature Conservancy with a landmark volunteer event to help restore the Gulf of Mexico. Along with hundreds of volunteers (nearly 600!) and partners, we worked to build four new reefs.

These reefs are the foundation of a living shoreline, designed to enhance habitat for fish, shellfish and birds while helping to minimize coastal erosion. As one eager grade school boy explained, “It’s like baking a cake. We put the ingredients there, and then the sea life comes and bakes the cake.”

The event was epic in many ways. Most notable was the energy of the volunteers. Cheers erupted and I got chills as more than 200 volunteers arrived from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. These servicemen and women gave up their Saturday to pitch in.

One by one, groups of volunteers waded into the water and stacked nearly 10,000 concrete blocks called oyster castles to form the base of the reefs. Each castle weighed 35 pounds!

Folks from Keesler shouted military chants (Hooah!), and our friends at Mobile Baykeeper, Alabama Coastal Foundation, The Ocean Foundation and 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama had smiles. The energy was palpable, and all around folks shared their memories and stories of the Gulf of Mexico. One volunteer described seeing baby dolphins feed near the shoreline, while others swapped their favorite oyster recipes.

The event happened just weeks before the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a story I have followed closely. From far away in Seattle, the situation often seems dire.

But being there in person, it became obvious that people like me — and the hundreds of other volunteers singing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd–Re are part of the solution. And the future of the Gulf is a bright one.

Katherine Sather works in digital marketing for The Nature Conservancy’s North America region.

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Photos Erika Nortemann/TNC

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By Katherine Sather / The Nature Conservancy

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10:01PM PDT on Jul 20, 2013

thank you for the article and thanks to the volunteers who came and worked. The Gulf Coast appreciates all the help we can get to restore all of our reefs, barrier islands, wetlands and marshes. and thanks to all who put comments here. Bravo one and all.

7:59AM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

7:34AM PDT on May 13, 2013

Great story on an obviously great effort by so many people! The only downside was the oyster recipes part - why destroy what you're trying to rebuild?

12:19PM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

inspiring story

2:10PM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

Wow!!! Great!

4:45PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

Thank you for the beautiful post! Most human beings have good hearts. It's too easy to forget that simple fact.

5:33AM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

Nice! :)

8:09AM PDT on Apr 17, 2013

Sad that they can swap oyster recipes while working on a reef. It's like talking about your beautiful cow that you are going to eat.

10:00PM PDT on Apr 16, 2013


5:47AM PDT on Apr 16, 2013

A sweet home for the wildlife

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