The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance Encourages Good Water Stewardship
The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to providing sustainable uses of local water ways since 1996. They’re working to fulfill their mission and grow a community of stewards that will help preserve those resources for future generations.
The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is focused on the Choctawhatchee River and Bay Watershed, which stretches to the north of Troy, Alabama and includes the Pea River and numerous creeks.
Promoting and preserving the health and wealth of those local waterways begins with educating the community. Sarah Davis, CBA’s Fund Development and Marketing Coordinator, says teaching today’s youth is especially important; “We give the children, in partnership with Ameri Corps monthly lessons about the environment. And, the children are given salt marsh nurseries in which they grow Spartina alterniflora.”
Davis says CBA’s “Grasses in Classes” program provides intellectual and environmental growth for 3rd and 5th grade students in twenty schools in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, “They go and grow shoreline grass and learn about the environment and then at the end of the year we take them out to Choctawhatchee Bay to one of our restoration sites. They’re able to plant the shoreline grass and have an active role in restoring our bay and the watershed.”
The CBA has expanded their education outreach by piloting a middle school program in 2014 to six schools called “Dunes in School.” Their goal is to help restore the Coastal Dune Lake and Barrier Island Ecosystem in the 30A area.
Alison McDowell is the Director of the CBA and says that 75-85% of commercially and recreationally important species that are caught in the Gulf spend part of their lifecycle in the Bay. McDowell says a key factor in the Bay’s health is monitoring the water quality and reducing erosion, and the Oyster Reef Restoration program started in 2006 does just that, “One adult oyster can filter up to fifty gallons of water a day. The structure of the reef can also provide lots of hiding places for juvenile fish and crabs so it’s an important structure. The physical presence of the oyster reef, the way we build them along the shoreline can actually help to slow down wave energy and so we can reduce and sometime even reverse erosion in that way.”
Although, the Okaloosa Department of Health monitors the water quality in the area, the alliance takes a different approach that is complimentary to the efforts of DOH, “We do this partnership with University of Florida Lake Watch. And, so what we’re testing for is total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and chlorophyll, which are measures of how much nutrients there are in the water. And, if you have too many nutrients that could be a bad thing, too many nutrients can lead to excess algae which can lead to algae bloom then a loss of oxygen. So, that’s why it’s important to monitor those parameters.”
Decreasing the amount of pollution is another concern. According to Sarah Davis, the organization partnered with the city of Destin for the 30th annual International Coastal Clean Up in September and collected water bottle tops, food wrappers, and fireworks debris, but the biggest culprit came from people smoking, “Cigarette butts are something that people are pretty quick to toss out the window or just drop on the ground. It takes 10-12 years for one cigarette butt to decompose in a marine ecosystem. And, we collected a little over 5,000 cigarettes from Noriega Point at the Coastal Clean Up, which is 50,000 plus years collectively for all those cigarettes to decompose. And, that’s a lot.”
In 2014, the national event yielded 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picking up more than 16 million pounds of trash. Davis says the event was so successful; CBA will participate again on Earth Day in 2016. In the meantime, Davis says they encourage the public to check out their ecological advancements.
Become a good steward of water and help ensure CBA’s mission of keeping the Bay healthy by taking the Steward Pledge at their website www.basinalliance.org, “If you wanted to know more about CBA and the programs and volunteer opportunities, what we have coming up event wise they can visit our website.”