Preserving the Cultural Heritage of a Gulf Coast Community

Bayou La Batre, Alabama, is the quintessential southern coastal town. Besides occasionally slipping in and out of pop culture for being highlighted in Forrest Gump and Pirates of the Caribbean, this nearly 230-year-old, four-square-mile town is the home of families who have worked as fishermen, shrimpers, and shipbuilders for generations. This local, waterfront community was seriously impacted by the back-to-back catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, leaving the regional economy and ecology severely damaged and in need of a plan to move forward.

Thanks to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Gulf Environment Benefit Fund, we're helping to develop a watershed management plan that serves as a roadmap for conservation, natural habitat improvements, water quality restoration, and community development as it relates to the watershed. Managed by the Mobile County Soil and Water Conservation District through the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP), the plan charts a conceptual course for restoring, improving, and protecting what people value most about living along Alabama's coast.

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A Critical Watershed

Although closely associated with the city of Bayou La Batre, the watershed extends well beyond city limits and includes substantial amounts of forest and agricultural land. The majority of residents living in the watershed either make their living directly off natural resources or support the industries that do. Those that make a living off the natural resources (farmers, fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen), as well as those who support them (hotel owners, shipbuilders, mechanics, marina managers, and restaurant workers), depend upon the health of this watershed.

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An All-Encompassing Plan

We've structured Bayou La Batre's watershed management plan to first learn as much as possible about the region's natural systems—ecology and water. Both are an integral part of the fish and wildlife as are the peanut and cotton farms just north of town.

In addition to the science and engineering aspects of the watershed management plan, we've also been looking for ways to enhance and preserve the watershed's unique culture and heritage, which includes one of the bayou's most prominent features—direct access to the water. While the bayou provides the economic engine of the community, it's also important that local families and tourists have the opportunity to create and enjoy memories along its banks.

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The Future of Watersheds Across Coastal Alabama

With the help of community members, local government officials, NFWF, MBNEP, and the entire Dewberry team who has been working on this watershed management plan, the Bayou La Batre watershed community will be able to rehabilitate its economy with more resilient infrastructure, improved access to cultural and natural resources, and sustainable practices for watershed management going forward. We're excited to carry on this work to other watersheds in the Mississippi Sound Complex, including Dauphin Island and the West Fowl River.

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  • Cameron Morris
    Cameron Morris
 
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