Local CBA Hero Reaches National Level

In 2016, Jennifer McPeak partnered with CBA to construct a living shoreline along her property. She was so excited about the process and results that she has become an enthusiastic spokesperson for this green infrastructure technique. After seeing Jennifer eloquently speak about her living shoreline in a PBS video report, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reached out to Jennifer to collaborate on a project focusing on private property owners who had implemented living shorelines. Jennifer gladly agreed to talk to them, and not long after NWF invited Jennifer to Washington D.C. to meet with them and speak to representatives from different congressional offices about her firsthand experience with living shorelines. McPeak said, “After engaging the CBA to install oyster reef breakwaters and a living shoreline on our property and seeing how effective they are, I became an enthusiastic evangelist for them.  Not only do they stop – and in some cases, reverse – erosion, but they provide habitat for a fascinating number of native animal species.  So when the National Wildlife Federation reached out and invited me to speak with congressional representatives about the value of living shorelines, I could not have been more thrilled and excited to do so.  It was wonderful to see how receptive they were to the idea of using natural infrastructure solutions to address property safety, climate change concerns, and wildlife habitat needs.  I hope to see more private homeowners and public project managers choose living shorelines over traditional seawalls in the near future.”

While on the short visit, Jennifer met with aides from three different senators’ offices and discussed the proven benefits of living shorelines, and also addressed some of the frustrating obstacles to getting a permit to build one on your property. Jennifer reports that many of the aides were familiar with living shorelines, but were amazed by the fact that saltmarsh grasses were so efficient at filtering out excess nutrients from the water. Also, all were surprised to hear about some of the permitting obstacles and the fact that it is so much easier to get a permit for a seawall than it is to get one for a living shoreline. NWF staff also interviewed Jennifer and featured her in the article debuting their publication on the status of living shorelines along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. You can view the NWF article here, and the Softening Our Shores publication here.

We are so thankful for our waterway heroes that strive to preserve and improve our watershed! Jennifer has gone above and beyond in her support of living shorelines and CBA, guest speaking on a Climate Central article, PBS video, and now with NWF on these publications. We are also thankful that living shoreline projects are becoming more recognized and celebrated, and hope that permitting these projects will continue to become more streamlined in the future.

By Rachel Gwin

Interview with Living Shoreline Homeowners

Rachel Gwin had the pleasure of interviewing two of our esteemed living shoreline homeowners, Dr. Maurice “Scott” and Mrs. Evelyn Mettee. Dr. Mettee worked with the threatened Gulf sturgeon and researched the endangered Okaloosa Darter in Northwest Florida. He also published the Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile River Basin. As heroes of CBA, the Mettees have been active in supporting our mission for swimmable, fishable waterways. Their living shoreline has brought many marine visitors and much joy to their household.

As a Fisheries Biologist, what is your favorite fish in the Choctawhatchee Watershed?

Our two favorite fish species in Choctawhatchee Bay are the Gulf sturgeon and the Alabama shad. Both are anadromous species because they spend most of their lives in saltwater and migrate upstream into the Alabama section of the Choctawhatchee River to spawn. Adults return to the Gulf after the spawning season ends.

Dr. Mettee

What made you decide to create a living shoreline on your property? What is your favorite thing about your living shoreline?

Our family has owned property on Choctawhatchee Bay for 60 years so we’ve had plenty of time to observe the annual cumulative effects of wind, tides, and boat traffic on our beach. Generally speaking, prevailing NW winds increased our beach size from December through March. Most of these gains were usually eroded away by September and October by prevailing SW summer winds and increased boat wakes. Waves were breaking against the base of our sea wall by December.

Something had to be done to protect our beach. The CBA had the perfect solution. In March 2017, a small enthusiastic group of CBA staff and volunteers built four small reefs in shallow water parallel to our beach. Wonderful things began to happen shortly thereafter. Summer beach erosion moderated. Reef rocks were covered by a generous layer of algae, small corals and grasses. Thousands of small Choctawhatchee Bay fish, shrimp and crab species began using the reefs as feeding, nursery and hiding habitats. The still functioning reefs are a magnet for family members who want to observe Choctawhatchee Bay sea life in our own back yard. 

Dr. Mettee

What advice would you give people about maintaining a healthy watershed?

What can individual bay-front landowners do to protect and enhance the natural resources of Choctawhatchee Bay? We can tell you from personal experience. Call the CBA. Ask them to investigate the possibility of building a living shoreline on your beach. For everyone else, please give the CBA your financial support so it can continue this important habitat work.

Dr. Mettee

2020 DIY International Coastal Cleanup #CleanOn

To celebrate National Estuaries Week, CBA is teaming with Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup to ensure swimmable, fishable, trash-free waters in our beautiful estuary. Choctawhatchee Bay is the center of our community whose economy depends on her beautiful waters and abundant marine life. Whether you’re a fisherman, birder, paddleboarder, or restaurant owner, you understand the importance of our watershed. We’re empowering volunteers to hit sites in their community where trash is overlooked or misplaced. We welcome everyone in the Panhandle region to participate, as this will be a “Do-it-yourself” cleanup between September – October.

Cleanup Instructions:

1. Pick a Location:

  • Identify a safe location to clean where social distancing is easily achievable.
  • Avoid crowded sites by going during non-peak hours.

2. Download the Clean Swell app and create an account.

Ocean Conservancy created “Clean Swell”, a mobile app that enables volunteers to log the trash they find directly into the world’s largest marine debris database. This database is used by scientists, conservation groups, governments, and industry leaders to assess marine debris hotspots and stop marine debris at its source.

  • Be sure to “Allow” location services while using the app.

3. Gather Materials.

  • COVID-19 related Personal Protective Equipment (masks and gloves) and hand sanitizer
  • grabbers, trash bags, closed-toed shoes, and a reusable water bottle.
  • Your smartphone or tablet
  • Sunscreen, Bug spray, and Hand sanitizer

4. Rally your buddy or team on whatever day works best for you between September – October.

6. When logging into Clean Swell, please type in “Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance” in the “Group” section. This will be the only way our team can see what you’ve submitted and give us the opportunity to pull a report of all the volunteer data. Please don’t let your hard work go unnoticed!

7. Record your data as you clean up. It’s easiest to have one person designated as the data collector. Take a picture or two that you’d be willing to pass along when we put out a call for photos. Hashtags to use for your cleanup photos: #BasinAlliance, #CBAfortheBay, and #CleanOn

9. Review and submit your data. Follow steps on the Clean Swell app to review and submit your data. Data automatically submit to Ocean Conservancy’s database when you see a “Thank You!” screen.

10. Make sure your trash bags make it to a proper trash receptacle.

  • Properly dispose of items collected – Do not place trash in overflowing bins.
  • Immediately and thoroughly sanitize any gear.

11. Celebrate a job well done!

Recommended Cleanup Locations

The best recommendation we can make is to get outside and execute a cleanup in any way you can. No effort is too small because the smallest pieces of debris and microplastics can persist in our environment for long periods of time, harming both wildlife and humans. Cigarette butts and cigar tips, plastic fragments, food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, and Styrofoam pieces are some of the biggest culprits. So think simply and look closely for this cleanup!

Here are some location recommendations that might help you execute an impactful cleanup where you live:

  • Your neighborhood
  • Your surrounding shorelines (saltmarsh grasses can trap debris)
  • A local park
  • A beach

Learn more about #CleanOn ICC 2020

CBA Expands Service-Learning Science Initiatives

Transplanting smooth cordgrass – Sean Murphy

The natural wonders of our local area provide an ideal outdoor classroom where teachers can encourage young minds in scientific inquiry and exploration. With that in mind, the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance built extensive outdoor experience-focused, hands-on school curriculum around the flora, fauna, and natural processes of Choctawhatchee Bay and Walton County’s rare coastal dune lakes.

“We want to see what sparks their interest—what they see as worthy of their time.”

Alison McDowell – CBA Director

Now, CBA is expanding on those programs, and students will have opportunities to give back to nature through new service-learning initiatives with Seacoast and Ohana. Service-learning differs from community service in that students apply academic skills and knowledge to service activities that meet community needs. Environmental service learning often integrates science with service work.

“Our education programs have always had an element of service-learning to them, but we really became interested in student-directed service-learning after participating in a National Geographic Explorer Service Learning course this summer. We committed to looking for avenues to allow students to have more scope to direct their service to our local environment,” says Alison McDowell, CBA Director. “We want to see what sparks their interest—what they see as worthy of their time.”

“We have the aircraft, we have the pilots, we have some cameras, and we’d like to help.”

Chad Thurman – Ohana Institute Science Instructor

It wasn’t long after that decision to diversify educational offerings that two different Ohana Institute instructors reached out to CBA to brainstorm service opportunities for their students. Chad Thurman, a science instructor for Ohana high school students, made his marine biology, computer science, aviation, and dive teams available for scientific research. After a discussion with CBA staff, Thurman and the students decided to conduct data flyovers and monitoring along Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf. “We have the aircraft, we have the pilots, we have some cameras, and we’d like to help,” says Thurman in speaking of the plan that fits the unique skill sets and interests of his students.

Ohana’s younger set, grades 2-6, chose CBA as their partner organization for their annual days of service. Teachers guide students through learning about the environment that they have chosen to help. For example, leading up to a dune restoration service project in September, students learned all about dune habitats and their importance to our local ecosystem. On restoration day, students planted sea oats and played learning games. CBA staff helped to reinforce the indoor classroom lessons by providing students with firsthand outdoor experiences of the plants, animals, wave, and wind processes that form our beach and dune ecosystems. This service-learning model will continue as students explore three other local habitats throughout the year. “We are looking forward to the next adventure,” says teacher Missy Herrington.

“Service in the environment helps students to see how science can be applied to solve problems in the community…”

Annette Railey – Seacoast Collegiate High School Science Instructor

Seacoast Collegiate High School science teacher Annette Railey chooses to offer volunteer and service opportunities to students throughout the year, using them as touchstones to reinforce relevant science concepts. Seacoast students have already partnered with CBA in the International Coastal Clean-up this year, helping to remove 500 pounds of trash from local beaches. Currently, the students are learning about saltmarsh plants, in preparation for a shoreline restoration event on Choctawhatchee Bay. “Service in the environment helps students to see how science can be applied to solve problems in the community,” says Railey. “It’s good for them to be involved in the physical work of restoration.”

CBA provides education programs to inspire the next generation of water stewards. Discover more about our programs!

CBA Awarded 2019 Impact 100 Northwest Florida Grant

CBA’s Jenna Kilpatrick and Alison McDowell alongside CBA Board Member, Monica Autrey

This past year Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) competed for and won a $101,600 capacity-building grant from Impact 100 Northwest Florida. This gift allows CBA to purchase much-needed vehicles and equipment, continue and expand existing programs, and start new initiatives to maintain swimmable, fishable waterways now and into the future for humans and wildlife alike.

The mission of IMPACT 100 of Northwest Florida is to financially support nonprofit organizations in Northwest Florida by empowering women as philanthropists and leaders. Women who join Impact 100 contribute $1,000 each into a pool of money divided amongst selected local nonprofits through a grantmaking process. While the announcement of grant award-winners occurs in November, the selection process begins with a grant workshop in April, an application deadline in July, and a site visit from the Impact 100 team in August.

“CBA is so excited to receive this gift from Impact 100… Our lack of reliable transportation and appropriate equipment affects our growth and the types of services we can provide — especially in our bay restoration programs.”

CBA Director, Alison McDowell

With the Impact 100 grant, CBA purchased a heavy-duty truck, a specialized oyster shell recycling trailer, a van to transport the education and restoration teams, and aquaculture tanks for growing seagrass. CBA will transform and expand its oyster shell recycling program and launch a unique seagrass education and restoration initiative.

By bringing oysters back to the Bay, CBA will improve water quality and habitat. By teaching students about seagrass and involving them in firsthand restoration work, CBA will bring back seagrass and give the next generation opportunities to connect to their community. By investing in oyster and seagrass recovery, CBA will rebuild the natural filters of the Bay and sustain our waterways for wildlife and humans alike.

CBA for Citizen Science

CBA introduces new opportunities to get science-y. This stretch of the Florida coast is home to the Choctawhatchee Bay, the rare coastal dune lakes, and miles of sugar-sand Gulf beaches. These natural features are a sanctuary for wildlife and humans alike. Whether you enjoy fishing, boating, wildlife watching, or just a cold beverage with a spectacular view, there is no denying our waterways are unique. The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) is an organization dedicated to ensuring that we are all able to enjoy these perks of South Walton living now and into the future.

“The cost to monitor the 15 lakes monthly without citizen scientists would be huge—we wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Alison McDowell — CBA Director

Through CBA’s outreach programming and volunteer events, locals and visitors can participate in educational experiences that empower them to take action to care for our shorelines, wetlands, and waterways. Many of CBA’s activities recruit and train citizen scientists to help collect data about wildlife and water quality that will improve the management of our natural resources.

Citizen Scientists of CBA

What is a citizen scientist? Citizen science is the practice of public contribution to scientific knowledge through volunteer data collection and monitoring programs. Citizen scientists receive training and equipment as well as a well-earned sense of contribution to science that benefits small non-profits like CBA. 

“We have been able to learn so much background information about water quality in Walton County’s rare coastal dune lakes through the long-term efforts of our volunteer citizen scientists,” says CBA Director, Alison McDowell. “Thanks to them, we can now tell you things like which lakes would be most likely to have bass rather than blue crabs, based on the average salinity readings over the last 20 years, or which lakes show impacts of human development. The cost to monitor the 15 lakes monthly without citizen scientists would be huge—we wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

“Our new programs are more flexible, and they have an element of exploration and discovery that we hope will appeal to folks looking for a family- or leisure-time activity.”

Jenna Kilpatrick — CBA Monitoring Coordinator

Recently, CBA launched new opportunities for would-be citizen scientists to get involved and lend a hand. “Our water quality monitoring and oyster gardening programs are relatively high-commitment activities. Our new programs are more flexible, and they have an element of exploration and discovery that we hope will appeal to folks looking for a family- or leisure-time activity,” says CBA Monitoring Coordinator, Jenna Kilpatrick. 

These new programs are part of regional, national, and international data collection efforts. Local participation means that our area will “get on the map” and be well-represented when looking at geographic distribution.

Plastic bits on the beach indicate a good place to do a Nurdle Patrol

Nurdle Patrol is a Gulf of Mexico-wide study tracking nurdles, plastic pellets, which serve as a raw material in the manufacturing of plastic products. Nurdles are washing up on Gulf Coast beaches by the millions, and information collected by citizen scientists will help to map and track the source.

Birder recording for eBird – Sean Murphy

eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. eBird data document bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends through a data checklist. eBird’s free mobile app allows offline data collection anywhere in the world. Their website also provides many ways to explore and summarize your data and observations from the global eBird community.

Family identifying marine species for iNaturalist – Sean Murphy

iNaturalist is a not-for-profit program generating millions of data points for biodiversity research by helping people learn what is in their neighborhood. One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist connects CBA local citizen scientists with a community of over 750,000 scientists and naturalists. By recording and sharing observations, CBA citizen scientists will provide scientific data for researching and protecting our local habitats.

If you are interested in exploring and connecting to nature while giving back to the environment, you might be an excellent citizen scientist. Email cba@nwfsc.edu for details on how you contribute.