Gulf Power invests in Choctawhatchee Bay restoration
Through a Five Star Grant, Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is able to expand its mission to provide a sustainable future for the natural resources of the watershed.
Thanks to a new Gulf Power-funded Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program grant, Fort Walton Beach-based Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is expanding its mission to grow environmental stewards and step up measures to improve water quality.
The grant is funding the Choctawhatchee Bay Oyster Restoration through a Community Steward Project that builds on a 2015 grant. That grant allowed the Alliance to educate and train 3,000 k-12 students in the Okaloosa and Walton County School Districts to restore dunes and salt marshes in a coastal estuarine areas of the Choctawhatchee Watershed.
“With this new Five Star grant, we will be able to expand the program to high schools and get the students learning about aquaculture and growing oysters,” said Brittany Tate, the Alliance’s senior grant manager & education coordinator. “It will help us to build two new oyster reefs, one at Blue Water Bay Marina and the other across the bay at the Valparaiso Fishing Pier. We’re partnering with the City of Fort Walton Beach to enhance the reefs with living oysters grown through oyster gardeners — people who have docks on the bay.”
The goal is to engage 300 community stewards — 150 high school students and 150 community gardeners — who will be stewards for the bays and waterways in which they fish and recreate.
“It’s really important to get the community actively involved in restoration of oysters because they are a vital species in our estuaries in Northwest Florida,” Tate said. “They provide a habitat for other vital species, prevent erosion and naturally keep our water clean. An adult oyster can also filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day. Having healthy oysters in the bay and a strong population is going to keep the water clean for generations to come.”
Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson, said the company has long demonstrated its commitment to the customers and communities it serves by partnering to conserve our local natural resources.
“Through the Five Star and Urban Waters Program, we are pleased to support hands-on projects that educate and strengthen communities, while protecting and restoring our wetlands and streams for generations to come,” DelaHaya said.
Northwest Florida AmeriCorps is partnering with the project by providing members who will help teach students and the public about natural resources of Northwest Florida and get hands-on experience building a 1-acre oyster reef.
At the same time, the young adults will be learning valuable skills that will help them build their resumes.
They recently bagged fossilized oyster shells at Blue Water Bay Marina in Niceville and ferried them out into the bay to use on an oyster reef expansion.
“The Five Star Grant will provide the Alliance and AmeriCorps the ability to expand and educate the community about the importance of the Choctawhatchee Bay,” said Latrell Thompson, 21, who has served with AmeriCorps for two years. “This is a wonderful thing when you get a group of different people together to work toward a common goal of saving our bay.”
Five Star Grant
Gulf Power in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awards the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program as part of its continuing commitment to the natural resource conservation. The Five Star program emphasizes local community stewardship of natural resources by providing financial assistance to diverse local partnerships for wetland, forest, streamside and coastal habitat restoration.
Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said the Five Star grant program is a wonderful example of a community-focused conservation effort.
“The program is in its 17th year, so it represents a long-term commitment to environmental challenges,” he said. “And because a major program component is engaging communities in conservation, not only do we see the conservation benefits of the individual projects, but we also see the tremendous rewards of involving and educating citizens in the restoration and protection of clean water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat in their own communities.”
Gulf Power and Southern Company in partnership with NFWF and other public and private partners, has awarded approximately $2.2 million in grants to 58 community-led projects nationwide
Choctawhatchee Bay Alliance has received four grants since 2013.
“We are a completely grant- and donor-funded organization, so we rely heavily on organizations like Gulf Power to accomplish our goals and mission,” Tate said. “Gulf Power not only helps us financially to start up these projects and make a difference, but the employees actively participate in the projects by lending hand. We appreciate their support.”
The grant is part of the $2.2 million awarded in grants to 58 community-led projects nationwide as part of the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program by Southern Company, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)
Gulf Power is an investor-owned electric utility with all of its common stock owned by Atlanta-based Southern Company. Gulf Power serves more than 450,000 customers in eight counties throughout Northwest Florida. The company’s mission is to safely provide exceptional customer value by delivering reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity while strengthening our communities. Visit online at MyGulfPower.com or on the company’s Facebook page. News information can be found at GulfPowerNews.com.
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