Jack E. Davis to Give Talk on Pultizer-Prize Winning Book: The Gulf


On February 4th at 7 p.m., Jack E. Davis will give a talk on his Pulitzer-prizing winning book “The Gulf.” The event will feature an introduction by Commissioner Kelly Windes and NWFSC President Dr. Stephenson, and take place at the Sprint Theater on the Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. Book proceeds and donations benefit the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance.

Jack E. Davis is a professor of history specializing in environmental history and sustainability studies. Before joining the faculty at the University of Florida in 2003, he taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Eckerd College, and in 2002 was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Jordan in Amman.

Upon joining the faculty at UF, he founded the department’s student journal, Alpata: A Journal of History. His Race Against Time: Culture and Separation in Natchez Since 1930 won the Charles S. Sydnor Prize for the best book in southern history published in 2001. His next book, An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century (2009), received a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards.

The Gulf was a New York Times Notable Book for 2017 and made several other “best of” lists for the year, including those of the Washington Post, NPR, Forbes, and the Tampa Bay Times. In addition to winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for History, The Gulf was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and winner of the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction.

“The book focuses on the foundational history and ecology that has shaped our region as a whole,” says Alison McDowell, CBA Director, “As a non-profit organization dedicated to studying and improving our natural environment, we are looking forward to meeting Dr. Davis and will use the proceeds from the event in our programs to enhance swimmable, fishable waterways in our community.”

The event is made possible through a generous gift from Jennifer Boxen.

Skinny water culture donates proceeds of 1st annual SWC Red Drum Classic to CBA

Skinny Water Culture hosted the 1st Annual SWC Red Drum Classic in Destin, FL, donating $600 to the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s (CBA) water quality programs.

Operating the tournament from Local Market, the target species was red drum. As they explain in their blog about the event, “The format for the tournament is really fun and easy:” the more spots on the redfish, the more points an angler racks up. All fish caught with a fly earned double points.

Over 40 entrants participated in the tournament, which took place on a chilly November day. Destin guide Captain Shawn Dahnke came in first place, bringing in two fish with 80 points. The team looks forward to bringing the tournament back to Destin in 2019.

“Anglers are critical stakeholders in our Choctawhatchee Bay watershed. They’re on the water every day, and many help us monitor changing conditions as well as build living shorelines,” says Alison McDowell, CBA Director. “Tournaments like this are a great way to have fun and give back, and we so appreciate Skinny Water Culture choosing CBA as their nonprofit beneficiary!”

Skinny Water Culture is an apparel brand with a full line of clothing for the discerning angler, including performance wear and lifestyle pieces. Based in our native Florida, Skinny Water Culture was created with the spirit and the future of the youthful angler in mind. They pride themselves on giving back to the community that has brought so much to their lives by promoting good stewardship within the fishing and coastal communities.

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a non-profit organization striving to enhance swimmable, fishable waterways through monitoring, education, restoration, and research. For over 20 years, CBA has promoted water stewardship within the Choctawhatchee watershed, growing the network of supporters who join in CBA’s mission to provide a future for these precious, natural resources.

St. Joe Community Foundation Funds High School Oyster Program

To engage area youth in oyster restoration, the St. Joe Community Foundation is granting the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) $18,300 to bring their Spat On! program to 250 high school students in Walton County. In addition to providing monthly instruction and in-class lessons to foster understanding of oyster ecology and estuarine habitat, CBA will work with area high schools to build two new oyster reef breakwaters in the Choctawhatchee Bay.

According to the Nature Conservatory, 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost due to disease, pollution, declining habitat and over harvesting in the last decade. This makes oyster reefs the most severely impacted marine habitat on Earth (Shellfish Reefs at Risk Report, 2009). The oyster population in Choctawhatchee Bay is no exception, and the decline has led to a reduction in biodiversity and water quality. As NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation reports, oysters are a keystone species in the estuarine habitat because of the critical role they have in maintaining the ecosystem, and each adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each and every day. Through Spat On! students will play a direct role in improving oyster populations in their communities.

“One of the best aspects of our program is that the students are learning and doing,” says Amanda Briant, CBA Education Coordinator, “There is nothing better than seeing their sense of accomplishment after they’ve built the oyster reefs.”

“This is a great and multi-purposed environmental education opportunity for local high school students,” said April Wilkes, Executive Director of the St. Joe Community Foundation, “not only will they have the outdoor hands-on experience to learn more about the estuarine habitat of Choctawhatchee Bay, they will also be improving a natural resource for the public by growing the bay’s oyster population.”

Since its inception, the St. Joe Community Foundation (“Foundation”) has provided more than $20 million in grants to improve the quality of life in the communities it serves.  The Foundation provides charitable grants toward the civic infrastructure of communities in Northwest Florida with a focus, but not a limitation, on Bay and Walton Counties. The Foundation’s primary focus is on strengthening education, improving healthcare, protecting the environment and supporting local cultural interests. These efforts help build healthy, caring, long-lived communities.


30a 10k Donates $20,000 to CBA!

Over 3,000 runners competed in the 7th Annual 30a 10k. $20,000 of the proceeds benefited the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, with an additional $70,000 going to the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, the Bay Education Foundation, the Seaside Rep Theatre, and Sandcastle Kids, for a total of $90,000. Each organization donated volunteer hours to help the event run smoothly.

The organizers founded the race when they realized no other event in the area occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday, in contrast to many other communities around the country. During their first year they only expected a few hundred runners, but 800 registered. In 2018? Over 3,000 people participated in the Fun Run, 5k, and 10k.

“A Thanksgiving event is so much fun because it’s a great way to celebrate our local community,” says Alison McDowell, CBA Director, “The funding we receive from the 30A 10K supports our education programs, inspiring the next generation to be water stewards.”

“We are thrilled to have had another successful year by selling out all three races this past Thanksgiving Day and are delighted and proud to be able to donate to support local needs in our community!” says Karen Meadows, one of the event organizers.

The 30a 10k is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to serve the community by producing a world-class 10k and related events that raise money to benefit local charities, while promoting health and fitness. 2018 race results are available here.

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a non-profit organization striving to enhance swimmable, fishable waterways through monitoring, education, restoration, and research. For over 20 years, CBA has promoted water stewardship within the Choctawhatchee watershed, growing the network of supporters who join in CBA’s mission to provide a future for these precious, natural resources.

For more information, please contact CBA’s Communications and Marketing Coordinator, Erika Zambello, at zambelle@nwfsc.edu.

The Back Porch Restaurant in Destin Donates Oysters to Spat On Education Program

In November, the Back Porch in Destin donated 30 oysters to be used in both high school  and home school classrooms as part of CBA’s Spat On! education program. With these oysters, students will directly examine oyster anatomy, learning more about how oysters fit into both the environment and the food chain.

Spat On! encompasses 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. They monitor growing oysters using various aquaculture techniques, including GoPro Cameras and iPad minis, to analyze spat attachment and water regulation. Towards the end of the year, students move their matured oysters from the cultivation areas to a reef during a Move Your Mollusk event.

“Oysters are a keystone species in the Choctawhatchee Bay,” Amanda Briant, Education Coordinator for CBA, explains, “We believe that allowing students to actually hold and study these amazing critters will increase their appreciation this unique bivalve.”

Thank you Back Porch!



Over 120 Volunteers Compete to Finish 1400 Linear Feet of Reef Breakwater in Eglin Competition

The Eglin Natural Resources Branch, known as Jackson Guard, won CBA’s first ever reef building competition at Eglin AFB’s Post’l Point by building 175 linear feet of reef in four hours. The reef breakwater stretches 1,400 linear feet in all, made of over 140 tons of limestone rock pieces. Jackson Guard wins the grand prize: a brewery tour at Grayton Beer Company.

In all, six teams from across Eglin and Hurlburt competed to see who could build the fastest reef sections, including staff from Corvias, the Rapid Engineer Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, the Hurlburt Honor Guard, Jackson Guard, the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight, 73rd Special Operations Squadron, the 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron, and the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Corvias donated the most volunteer hours to build 18 reef sections (450 linear feet), in addition to an $8,000 grant to fund the reef project as part of their Giving Back program.

“Our Giving Back projects are part of who we are and what we do here at Corvias,” explains Katie Fuentes, Construction Service Administrator at Corvias, “This year’s partnership with CBA was a great experience allowing our whole team to participate for a memorable team building project. We’re thankful to have organizations in Northwest Florida like CBA who are dedicated to the health of our waterways.”

In addition to the grand prize, individual volunteers won: a growler from Niceville’s 3rd Planet Brewery, a bottle of rosé from 30A Coastal Dunes Wines, a bottle of chardonnay from 30A Coastal Dunes Wines, a gift certificate to Pizza by the Sea, and two CBA prize packs.

“Reef breakwaters and living shorelines protect cultural and natural resources on Eglin Air Force Base,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, “In addition to reducing erosion, the breakwaters provide habitat for fish, oysters, and other native species.”

“We could not have finished this project in two months without the help from Eglin’s Outdoor Recreation’s staff at the Post’l Point Marina,” Rachel Gwin, CBA Restoration Coordinator adds, “They offered the use of their boat and an ATV so we could move the limestone material from the staging area to the reef itself. Huge thank you to them!” She continues: “It was a monumental task to move that much material by hand to finish the reefs in two short months, but the volunteers were amazing to work with and made this project one of my favorites to complete.”

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a non-profit organization striving to enhance swimmable, fishable waterways through monitoring, education, restoration, and research. For over 20 years, CBA has promoted water stewardship within the Choctawhatchee watershed, growing the network of supporters who join in CBA’s mission to provide a future for these precious, natural resources.

For more information, please contact CBA’s Communications and Marketing Coordinator, Erika Zambello, at zambelle@nwfsc.edu.

Thank You Niceville Walmart!

The Niceville Walmart has granted CBA $1000 to further our mission to improve swimmable, fishable waterways in our community.  Without local stakeholders, individuals, and businesses, we would not be able to reach over 2,500 students each month, build living shorelines across the bay, monitor over 130 water quality sites, and so much more.

By receiving this grant, we are part of a long history of Walmart’s commitment to giving back to the communities where they operate.  In fact, Mrs. Helen Walton used to say “It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.”

Thank you Niceville Walmart!


Okaloosa Gas Grants CBA $3000 for the Lewis School’s Grasses in Classes Program

Okaloosa Gas has granted CBA $3000 to support the Lewis School’s Grasses in Classes curriculum during the 2018-2019 school year.

Grasses in Classes raises awareness and individual knowledge of local ecosystems through first-hand field experiences and in-class instruction.  With funding through Okaloosa Gas, Grasses in Classes students will tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren at the Lewis School will split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat and restores shoreline.

Okaloosa Gas believes the vitality of their business depends on the health and well-being of the communities where they live and work. Each year they fund a variety of nonprofit organizations and collaborate with their employees to provide additional volunteer support.

“Okaloosa Gas recognizes the importance of restoring our local waterways and keeping our environment clean for future generations,” says Eddie Springle, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service, “A key part of this is to educate today’s youth on ways to protect and maintain the ecosystem.”

He continues, “We are pleased to sponsor the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s Grasses in Classes program at Lewis School. This hands-on, environmental education program gives students a role in the restoration efforts in Choctawhatchee Bay throughout the school year and teaches how their work helps the local habitat and assists shoreline restoration.”

“Historically it’s been more difficult for smaller schools like Lewis to receive funding for unique curricula like Grasses in Classes,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA. “With this generous sponsorship from Okaloosa Gas we will be able to bring fifth graders to the Choctawhatchee Bay shoreline for a real restoration project.”

AmeriCorps Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards Awarded Best Florida Program

The Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards have been selected and awarded best program of the year out of 38 Florida AmeriCorps teams. This is the second time the program has been recognized.

A program under the Northwest Florida State College Foundation, the AmeriCorps team works with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance to build living shorelines and educate students in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as participate in restoration work for local Florida State Parks. Since 2014, AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards have built or restored over 100 acres of coastal habitat.

In addition to their restoration and education goals, AmeriCorps inspires volunteers from around Okaloosa and Walton Counties, as well as alternative spring breakers, to make a difference. In 2017-2018 alone, they worked with over 550 volunteers who served 1420 hours on reef building, coastal clean-ups, and outreach events.

“This is such an honor to be awarded Program of the Year out of 38 Florida programs,” says Laurie Von Kaenel, Director of the AmeriCorps team, “I am so proud of the 2017/18 AmeriCorps members for their hard work and dedication to making a positive impact in our communities.” She continues, “Great appreciation and thanks to Volunteer Florida,  NWFSC, CBA and Okaloosa and Walton County school districts and Florida State Parks at Grayton for your support and dedication to making the NWF Environmental Stewards program stellar, I appreciate all of you!”

The AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards are funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and overseen by Volunteer Florida, the lead agency for volunteerism and national service in Florida. Volunteer Florida’s mission is to strengthen Florida’s communities through national service, fostering volunteerism and leveraging resources which is supported by the Florida Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. Though most AmeriCorps programs across the United States have one central focus, this chapter is unique because each year members strive to both educate young students about their local ecosystems as well as improve that habitat through living shorelines and invasive species removal.

For more information, contact AmeriCorps Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards Director Laurie Von Kaenel at vonkaenl@nwfsc.edu.