According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “in 2010, 123.3 million people, or 39 percent of the nation’s population lived in counties directly on the shoreline”. The Gulf Shores area population is expanding rapidly due to its popularity, and the impact is negatively affecting Little Lagoon and its watershed. Many new inhabitants and visitors are not familiar with how fragile the coastal environment is and how their actions can have unforeseen consequences. A variety of growth-related activities have made the Gulf Shores area more susceptible to environmental degradation. For example, increased building construction and paved parking and roadways have reduced ground water recharge while increasing surface runoff. The resultant runoff washes a variety of pollutants into our waterways including the lagoon. People love a well maintained, lush lawn and landscaping. Fertilizers and chemicals applied to yards seep into our porous soils and flow into area waters via our subsurface aquifer. Little Lagoon, within the City of Gulf Shores, has lost over 50% of its “living” or natural shorelines due to bulkheading. This has resulted in the loss of essential nursery areas for many important fish, shrimp and crab species and in turn the fisheries in the lagoon. Other important habitats are being negatively impacted by growth.

LLPS has made it a priority over the past 12 years to reach out and try to inform, educate and energize as many people as possible about the Little Lagoon environment and LLPS activities. We have worked with 100’s of Baldwin and Mobile County elementary, middle and high school students demonstrating the LLPS volunteer water quality monitoring program and oyster gardening program. We have also worked with the Gulf Shores Beach Retreat and Ocean Camp and assisted them with informative seminars on Lagoon plants and animals for 100’s of elementary and middle school students from across the State. We have worked with Lagoon residents on alternatives to bulkheading and Living Shoreline Restoration techniques. LLPS has conducted informative seminars for groups like the West Beach Property Owners, Gulf Shores United Methodist Church, and Alabama Coastal Clean-up. Notably, we go to great lengths to inform our members and the public by providing expert guest speakers and informative topics at each of our LLPS Quarterly Members Meeting. A recent example is the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) sharing with us trawl and gill net survey data documenting fish, shrimp and crab declines in Little Lagoon and area waters.

Early in 2019 we began a promising outreach program with Gulf Shores High School and Krista Marcum, a Gulf Coast Ecology and Marine Biology teacher. The program includes four High School classes and ~120 students. In 2020 the classes will monitor water quality, bacteria and phytoplankton at our Site 2-NE water quality sampling location and at the State Park weir in the bayou connecting Little Lagoon to Lake Shelby. They will analyze the data and present their findings to GSHS students and faculty, and City of Gulf Shores officials. They have also been active participants in our oyster gardening program.

An exciting component of the LLPS outreach effort is the Little Lagoon Oyster Gardening Program (sponsored and administered by MS/AL Sea Grant) where young oysters are held in suspended cages in the lagoon from the piers of program participants. The oysters serve as habitat for a variety of marine organisms while providing carbon removal and beneficial water filtration needed in the Lagoon. Once the oysters reach a size of approximately 2 inches or more, they are stocked on closed-to-harvest, public reefs in Mobile Bay which are managed by the Alabama Marine Resources Division. Once in Mobile Bay, the oysters provide the same benefits already mentioned but importantly, also spawn to help repopulate severely depleted Mobile Bay oyster reefs.

In 2019 there were 43 resident oyster gardeners in Little Lagoon. Gulf Shores High School students joined the gardening program at the start of the 2019 school year. Collectively, gardeners produced 54,460 oysters from 192 cages at 48 garden sites around Little Lagoon in 2019. Krista Marcum and GSHS students produced 4,082 oysters from 4 gardens (16 cages).

The oyster gardening season generally runs from June into November each year. if you are interested in becoming an oyster gardener contact Dennis Hatfield at scoopsinc@gulftel.com for more information.

Upcoming outreach activities will include creating living shorelines as an alternative to bulkheads. For more details on this program and how such shorelines can help preserve shorelines and improve the productivity of the lagoon contact Dr. Eric Sparks at eric.sparks@msstate.edu.

Little Lagoon Preservation Society stands ready to provide technical expertise, relevant supplies, monitoring sites, site monitoring and field and classroom help as needed to any group interested in improving the environmental quality of Little Lagoon and its surrounding watershed. A healthy watershed needs to be populated by individuals that appreciate its complexity. Little Lagoon Preservation Society members welcome the opportunity to help educate our future generations as to the value and importance of our marine resources and the watersheds that nurture them. We value the knowledge and skills gained in other fields by all members of our community that can be shared in efforts to preserve the Little Lagoon.

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