Grasses in Classes: 2018-2019 Year Recap

May was Grasses in Classes field trip month for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance! Nearly every day, CBA staff and AmeriCorps team members met 3rd and 5th graders across the Choctawhatchee Bay to plant smooth cordgrass and participate in fun, educational nature games.

CBA’s Grasses in Classes is a hands-on, environmental education program that gives students a direct role in the restoration of Choctawhatchee Bay. In partnership with AmeriCorps and with partial funding from the USFWS Coastal Program and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, CBA provides teachers in Okaloosa and Walton Counties the equipment and materials required to grow shoreline grasses at their school.  At the end of the school year, Grasses in Classes culminates with students planting their shoreline grasses at one of our salt marsh restoration sites along Choctawhatchee Bay as part of our living shoreline initiative. The program instills a love of local habitat, restores shoreline, and inspires the next generation of watershed stewards.

A living shoreline site at Ross Marler Park on Okaloosa Island.

This year, nearly 2,000 students from 117 classes planted 655 bags of grasses at Lincoln Park, Florida Park, Cessna Landing, White Point, and more. In addition to planting, the “exploration station” remained a highlight with each group, as students could wade into the shallows of the bay to net native fish, crabs, and shrimp.

Are you interested in sponsoring a class for the 2019-2020 academic year? Click here and select “Adopt a School,” or email us at for more information.

30A 10K Benefits Local Nonprofit Organizations

The 30A 10K, Inc. has announced the 2019 charity partners for their Thanksgiving Day Race!

The 30A 10K race is a 501 (c) 3 event; their mission is to raise funds for local non-profits as well as promote the spirit of healthy living and thankfulness as we come together to celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday. The event will take place this Nov. 28, 2019 in downtown Rosemary Beach with a 10K, 5K and 1 mile fun run. Registration is now open here.

The charity partners for 2019 include:

  1. Anchorage Children’s Home –a local non-profit organization providing emergency shelter, transitional living, maternity transitional living, street outreach services, family counseling and case management as well as group home care for foster care siblings for abused, runaway and homeless youth. Anchorage’s mission is to be An Anchor for Today’s Children…Strengthening Tomorrow’s Families.  Anchorage serves approximately 1,200 youth and families annually.


  1. Girls Inc – a non-profit located in Bay County whose mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold.  Girls Inc does this through structured, comprehensive after school and out-of-school time programs designed to give girls the opportunity to learn things in a safe and encouraging environment.


  1. The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County– Founded in 1993, the mission of the Cultural Arts Alliance (CAA) of Walton County is to advance the arts through leadership, advocacy, funding, programs, and education. As the creative core of Walton County, the CAA offers support, connection and access opportunities for all forms of art, every variety of maker, all levels of learners, and especially, art lovers. Through sponsorship, performance, and educational programs, the organization directly connects the people of Walton County with the broader view, the critical exploration, and the answers only the Arts have the power to provide.


  1. The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance – Founded in 1996, CBA is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving swimmable, fishable waterways in our community through education, monitoring, restoration and research.


  1. The Foye Belle Foundation – a non-profit located in South Walton whose Blue Bag Movement delivers essentials to cancer patients, at no charge, to make the chemo process as comfortable as possible.   Each Blue Bag contains a curated collection of more than 20 items that provide strength and support to chemo patients.  The Foundation’s goal is to use the 30A 10K race donation to further the Blue Bag Movement by creating partnerships with oncology centers across the Emerald Coast to ensure everyone going through the chemo process feels loved and supported.

Shoreline Church Hosts Flyfishing Film Tour with Proceeds Benefiting CBA

Over 100 angling enthusiasts spent Friday, May 4th at the Fly Fishing Film Tour, hosted for the second year in a row by Shoreline Church in Destin. The event raised $3000 for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) to improve swimmable, fishable waterways.

The 2019 films featured stories from all over the world, including Alaska, the Seychelles, Australia, French Polynesia, and more. Doors opened at 6 p.m., and local vendors showcased their wares and fishing products, including the Flying Pig Café, the Brig Brewery, Panhandle Flyfishers, and Bote. Bote, Orvis, and Skinny Water Culture provided door prizes, and Bote additionally raffled off one of their impressive boards.

“We are very passionate about the environment and as Christ followers, we believe that we should lead the way in taking care of the environment,” says Eric Partin, Pastor of Shoreline Church.

He continues, “Besides it was man’s first job. So hosting this film festival is one way that we can help out the CBA in stewarding our watershed now for future generations to enjoy. I would like my grandchildren to appreciate what we did to preserve it.”

“Seeing so many inspiring films is a great way to celebrate both angling and our environment,” says Alison McDowell, Director of CBA, “Thanks to Shoreline Church, the proceeds from this event will be invested into improving swimmable, fishable waterways in our community.”

According to the Fly Fishing Film tour (F3T), “The original and preeminent exhibition of fly fishing cinema, The F3T is a one of a kind experience. Each year anglers of all ages gather in big cities and small towns alike to soak up films from around the world, spin a few yarns amongst friends and dream about casts yet unmade. In its 13th lap around the globe, the Fly Fishing Film Tour is packed with remarkable films, topnotch stories and imagery that will fuel your dreams for months to come!”

April Coastal Clean-Ups with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

In early April, volunteers fanned out across Okaloosa Island to collect marine debris and plastic pollution along both the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay shorelines. Sponsored by CBA, Saltwater Restaurants, Inc., and the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department, with partnerships with United Way and the Boys and Girls Club, the multi-location event resulted in the proper disposal of plastic water bottles, half-of-a-bicycle, over 8,500 cigarette butts, and so much more.

Coastal cleanups, says Alex Fogg, the Marine Resource Coordinator for Okaloosa County “are a great benefit to the community. Not only do they result in cleaner beaches, but they bring visitors and locals together on a common cause.” He continues, “This year in particular, we had a significantly larger number of participants, which allowed us to plan for another location besides just the beach.”

“The Gulf Islands National Seashore site,” he explains, “was selected due to trash and debris that had been observed and was a result of last season’s storms. Sites like this usually do not receive much attention when it comes to volunteer cleanup events, but this year’s event demonstrated that with surplus volunteers, these less commonly cleaned destinations can be targeted, resulting in greater event impact.”

Just a few weeks later, CBA teamed up with the City of Destin to host a similar clean-up event on Norriego Point. Over thirty volunteers participated on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, focusing on the small items that can make a big impact: fishing line, glass, and cigarette butts. Together, the clean-up events both restored our beaches while educating the visitors and locals about the importance of proper trash disposal and Leave No Trace.

Photo courtesy of the City of Destin.




Shoreline Grasses Growing at Post’l Point Site

In the summer of 2018, CBA worked with Eglin Air Force Base, Corvias, and over 100 volunteers to create a reef breakwater and living shoreline to reduce erosion along Post’l Point. Nearly a year later, native marsh grasses and other vegetation are beginning to stabilize the land behind the breakwaters.

The photo below was taken in January 2019, during a very low winter tide.  During higher tides, the limestone rocks reduce the wave energy hitting the shoreline, changing the aquatic environment marsh grasses can use to grow.


The second photo was taken just last week. As you can see, the native smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) has not only been able to take root, but is now growing above the waterline. In addition to providing critical habitat, the grass roots will stabilize sediment, which further reduces erosion and can actually build out the shoreline itself.

Learn more about CBA’s living shorelines program – and how you can help – by clicking here.

Destin Forward Works with CBA to Build Living Shoreline and Refurbish Research Vessels

The 2018-2019 Destin Forward class has teamed up with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) to build a living shoreline in Ross Marler Park and restore CBA’s research vessels for future monitoring and living shoreline initiatives.

The Destin Forward leadership class, a program of the Destin Chamber of Commerce, discovers the inner workings of Destin through monthly presentations and field trips. Each class completes a project to give back to the Destin community. This year, Destin Forward members chose the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance because living shoreline and monitoring projects have a direct impact on citizens of and visitors to Destin.

“We challenge the class each year to find a need in our community and a solution to that need, and it should have a long-lasting impact on the Destin community. There is no question that maintaining top-level water quality is a major need for us, so this project fits perfectly with the tourism industry and for quality of life for our residents,” explains Shane A. Moody, CCE, FCCP, Destin Chamber President & CEO. “It’s good to see that they’ve learned from their classes. They should be congratulated on their hard work, not just the fundraising, but the physical labor as well.”

After raising funds during the annual Pins and Pancakes event at Uncle Buck’s in the Destin Commons, Destin Forward members volunteered with CBA for two days in March to build a new reef breakwater in Ross Marler Park, bag recycled oyster shell for a future living shoreline, and refurbish and restore CBA’s 19-foot Mako research vessel. Because of the class members’ efforts, the reef breakwater will provide habitat and reduce erosion along the Choctawhatchee Bay, while CBA’s Mako will continue to bring staff and volunteers across the watershed to conduct critical monitoring and restoration initiatives.

“Nearly all CBA staff go through the Destin Forward program,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA, “So we are thrilled that this year’s class chose to invest in our waterways through their unique service project. They worked hard!”

Designed to provide a hands-on learning experience into the issues facing the Destin community on a day-to-day basis, Destin Forward accepts up to 25 business professionals for each 9-month class. Participants learn from experts in many different fields, including the environment, boat safety, tourism promotion, and government affairs. Class begins in August with a welcome reception and ends in May with a graduation.

CBA Welcomes New Monitoring Coordinator!

This March, Jenna Testa joined the CBA team as the Monitoring Coordinator!

“I am beyond excited to contribute to the CBA mission in preserving our local waterways,” she says, “Growing up along the Emerald Coast, I have always been fascinated by our marine environment and the life it supports.”

Jenna earned her undergraduate degree in Biology at Florida State University. Interested in animal behavior and wildlife conservation, she worked and volunteered as a wildlife rehabilitator, zookeeper, and marine animal stranding coordinator. While gaining critical experience, she completed her master’s degree in conservation biology through Miami University in 2018.

“My unique graduate program enabled me to travel to Belize, Australia, and Africa to learn with and amongst conservationists, scientists, and locals,” she continues, “My master’s portfolio focused on incorporating marine conservation into the community of northwest Florida. So, I am thrilled to be a part of CBA and help continue to teach others about what we can do to conserve our local resources as well as what conservation can do for our community.”

As Monitoring Coordinator, Jenna is in charge of managing sampling at over 130 water quality sites throughout the bay, completing seagrass surveys, working on monofilament recycling, and helping new and ongoing research projects. Welcome Jenna!

CBA Joins 1% for the Planet

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) has been accepted into the unique 1% for the Planet network. Members of the network give 1% of their revenue or individual earnings back to environmental nonprofits each year. As an organizational member of 1%, CBA is now eligible to receive these gifts to improve swimmable, fishable waterways.

Each nonprofit organization entering 1% for the Planet is nominated by a business or individual already participating in the movement. After donating to CBA programs for two years, New Belgium Brewing Company nominated CBA.

“1% for the Planet is a global organization that connects dollars and doers to accelerate smart environmental giving” the organization explains. According to the 1% for the Planet mission, “1% for the Planet is a credible and accessible way to support the environment. It’s not always easy to know where and how to support good work. Most businesses and individuals don’t have the expertise to develop their own environmental giving strategies, and few have the time or resources to sort through the dizzying array of options for how to make a difference.” 1% provides that guidance.

1% for the Planet accepts nonprofit organization in six core issue areas: climate, food, land, pollution, water and wildlife. CBA remains under the “water” umbrella category. Originally founded in 2002, 1% for the Planet “members have given more than $200 million to environmental nonprofits to date.”

“1% for the Planet allows us to reach a brand new audience not only in our region, but nationally as well,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA, “We appreciate that 1% for the Planet encourages partnerships through monetary gifts, but also through volunteer events, in-kind contributions, and raising awarness.” McDowell continues, “Each gift will be invested into the Choctawhatchee Bay watershed to preserve the heart and soul of our community for generations to come.”

Earth Day Celebration in Fort Walton Beach

CBA will be on-site for the Earth Day Celebration in Fort Walton Beach on Saturday, April 13th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Liza Jackson Park, 338 Miracle Strip Parkway SW, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548.

The theme for Earth Day 2019 is “Protect Our Species.” Although many vendors that will support the theme, other vendors will include a focus on recycling, electric vehicles, solar energy, water education, plastic pollution, and more. To view a list of vendors, visit

Earth Day Fort Walton Beach is proud to be part of Drive Electric Earth Day. Drive Electric Earth Day is a national campaign to share information about electric vehicles. JuicedCar will be onsite to discuss all you need to know about electric vehicles.

Musical guest, Asa Hooks, will provide entertainment during the hours of 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.

The intent of Earth Day Fort Walton Beach is to educate the public and increase awareness about environmental and social issues at local, regional, and global levels to engage, empower, and encourage public involvement towards positive resolutions. CBA will have games for kids and information on our wonderful natural resources!

Stay update on the event on our Facebook page

Okaloosa County, Dewey Destin’s, and CBA Bring Interactive Lionfish Lesson to Fort Walton Beach High School

“Who’s ready to eat some lionfish?”

A slew of hands shoot up, the culmination of an interactive lesson about invasive species as part of CBA’s Spat On! program in Fort Walton Beach.

Jim Shirah, chef at Dewey Destin’s, placed the fillets on a hot pan, steam rising in the air of the classroom. Flipping the lionfish a few times, he placed the pieces onto a plate, ready for sampling. The students lined up.

Invasive species lessons are part of CBA’s Spat On! program. The initiative provides students with several hands-on activities and lessons that foster their understanding of oyster ecology and the estuarine habitat.

Spat On! encompasses both field experiences and in-class assignments. To introduce the students to oyster restoration, students help construct an oyster reef by bagging recycled oyster shell and placing the material at the end of the school year.

Amanda Briant, CBA Education Coordinator, began the lesson with an introductory presentation on invasive species and their effects on native ecoystems, before introducing Alex Fogg, Marine Resources Coordinator at Okaloosa County. Immersed in combating the invasive lionfish population by creating a seafood market for the species, Fogg traced the introduction and spread of lionfish, as well as different efforts used to curb the growth of their numbers.

“Events like this are great because they encourage removal efforts through commercialization of the fish, i.e. asking for it at the restaurant, or actively removing the lionfish themselves (when they get old enough),” Fogg explains, “The students were surprisingly interested, and most tried the lionfish at the end of the class.”

Chef Schirah showcased filleting a lionfish, removing the venomous spines, taking a look at the stomach contents, then removing the beautiful meat for cooking. Students came in closer, taking photos on their cell phones and oohing and aahing over the delicious smell filling the room.

Everyone who tried the fish loved it, all agreeing that they would order lionfish if offered at a local restaurant. “This is my new favorite fish,” one enthused.

Hands-on, taste-bud focused invasive species demonstrations provide students with a real-world solution to an ecological problem, prompting them to think creatively about landscape management and restoration.