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Grasses line the bank of lagoon on a sunny day
Information icon “Working with our partners to restore the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge shoreline along Little Lagoon is very exciting,” Jackie Sablan, Bon Secour NWR Wildlife Ecologist, says. “Once complete, this restoration project will enhance the existing shoreline, while at the same time creating a buffer to protect existing refuge infrastructure and the endangered Alabama beach mouse habitat directly south of the project area.” Photo by Mississippi - Alabama Sea Grant.

Deepwater Horizon settlement funds new living shoreline at national wildlife refuge

In early November, a team of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) biologists, one archeologist, and their non-governmental partners met along the shore of Little Lagoon in Alabama’s Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge with the goal of restoring part of the lagoon’s eroding shoreline.

The team was more than ready to begin installing native wetland plants. The Little Lagoon Living Shoreline Project was approved by the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees; specifically, the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, which includes members of the Service’s Gulf Restoration Office, in its second post-global settlement restoration plan. The project is designed to restore a minimum of 2,200 feet of shoreline at an estimated cost of $211,000.

Wave action erodes a shoreline resulting in dark brown water full of sediment
Highly eroded area prior to installation of black needle rush and smooth cordgrass. Photo by Jackie Sablan, USFWS.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused oiling of Bon Secour’s beaches, and cleanup activities disturbed both beaches and dunes. The project is one of a handful approved for the refuge to offset the injury to natural resources and reduction in recreational use caused by the spill. This project will help reduce erosion of the lagoon’s shore line and improve its water quality.

The team, comprised of representatives from the Service, The Nature Conservancy, Mississippi State University, and University of South Alabama, completed an initial planting of 250 black needle rush and 250 smooth cordgrass. These plantings will be used to gauge wave action and site conditions and help the experts design a future suitable planting pattern to protect this shoreline from additional erosion.

Four Service biologists pose for a photo next to the restoration site with a bright blue sky
USFWS Planting team members from left to right, Kevin Chapman, Robin Donohue and Kate Healy (all Gulf Restoration Office) and Jackie Sablan, Bon Secour NWR. Photo by USFWS.

Vegetated living shorelines are important first lines of defense that help reduce erosion and maintain or improve water quality. At Little Lagoon, the dune vegetation behind the beach is another line of defense against erosion from severe weather. Dune vegetation also provides important habitat for many kinds of wildlife, and in this case, the dunes at Bon Secour provide habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse.

Prior to planting, Gulf Restoration Office Archeologist Kevin Chapman surveyed the planting area for any signs of cultural material on the surface. After soil was removed, it was put through a quarter-inch sieve to uncover any buried artifacts.

“The types of cultural material we could have found,” said Chapman, “included prehistoric shells, historic or prehistoric ceramics, stones, glass, or metal fragments. If we’d found any cultural material, I would have stopped work in the area and recorded the discovery.”

The team will return in December to install another 500 plants, and it will monitor the test plots for plant survival. They will use these data to design a wave attenuation barrier. “We want to put the softest barrier that will be effective under the conditions present at the site,” said Service Biologist Robin Donohue. “That is, we would choose coconut fiber logs over rocks if the wave energy is low enough that the logs would persist.”

The team also plans to return in March 2020 to install 10,000 black needle rush on the barrier.


Nanciann Regalado, Public affairs specialist, (404) 679-7286

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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