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

By Katherine Sather / The Nature Conservancy


Kay M.
.5 years ago

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.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog5 years ago

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?

JL A5 years ago

inspiring story

Emelie Hangsel
Past Member 5 years ago

Wow!!! Great!

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo5 years ago

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

Teresa Garcia
Teresa GarcĂ­a5 years ago

Nice! :)

Lydia Weissmuller Price

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.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Fi T.
Past Member 5 years ago

A sweet home for the wildlife