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

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.