The Nature Conservancy in Alabama: Lightning Point Shoreline Restoration

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PEP Board of Directors honors The Nature Conservancy with the 2021 Community Partner award for the Lightning Point Shoreline Restoration. PEP also recognizes PEP member Moffat & Nichol for their engineering leadership and management of this project. Other PEP members involved in this broad project include Alabama Power and Rowe Engineering. Lightning Point, located in Bayou la Batre, AL, has been buffeted by tropical storms and hurricanes for more than a century. It also suffered significant damage due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. The area has lost roughly 600 feet of shoreline over the years. 

Historic shoreline of Bayou la BatreThe Nature Conservancy launched the Lightning Point Shoreline Restoration project in October 2017. But, shortly after, Hurricane Nate hit the Alabama Gulf Coast and stole another 30 feet of shoreline. This set the timeline back but also greatly emphasized the need for restoration efforts.

The project design for the shoreline restoration included 1.5 miles of overlapping and segmented breakwaters allowing for tidal exchange with 10,000 linear feet of reconstructed tidal creeks while encouraging accretion and retention of sediment and protecting the new coastal habitats. Downwind of the breakwaters, the team created nearly 40 acres of habitat. This habitat included 30 acres of intertidal and supra-tidal marsh at an elevation of zero to +2 feet and five acres of scrub-shrub at 4+ feet. They also added an acre of recycled oyster shell hash from the Alabama Coastal Foundation to create a habitat for diamondback terrapins and shorebirds.
Shoreline renovation

The habitats were constructed over eight months by using more than 240,000 cubic yards of dredge materials from nearby borrow sites. With these new habitat components in place, from the intertidal flats and marsh plants to the higher upland habitat and scrub-shrub areas, Lightning Point is welcoming various shore and wading birds, waterfowl, fisheries and other species of wildlife to thrive. The Nature Conservancy saw that nesting least terns and migratory birds colonized the area almost immediately after the habitats were completed. The creation of these habitats will uplift and enhance the ecological diversity and success of Lightning Point for decades to come.

Bayou la Batre marshesAnother testament to the success of the shoreline restoration is how it behaved last year. The project was completed in July 2020 amidst one of the most active hurricane seasons this area has ever experienced. Eight significant tropical storms entered the Gulf of Mexico with four systems producing storm surges of up to eight feet. Lightning Point saw minimal erosion across the new habitats and breakwaters thus attesting to the success and the protection the restoration will provide Lightning Point.

Lastly, the local community of Bayou la Batre regularly utilizes the area adjacent to the Lightning Point Restoration Project for fishing, boating and other water-based recreation. The project improved the environmental value of the areas and created a renewed draw for eco-tourism and recreational access to the shore. “This was an amazing project – not just because of its massive size and public focus, but because of the people who helped make it happen,” said Mary Kate Brown, Coastal Projects Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.

“The Nature Conservancy and Moffatt & Nichol could not have implemented this significant coastal habitat uplift to Bayou La Batre’s community front porch without the support of the City of Bayou La Batre, Mobile County, Federal and State agencies, Mobile Bay NEP and countless other community partners., including Alabama Power and PEP,” said Judy Haner, Marine Programs Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.

From ecological diversity and shoreline protection to a renewed interest in our coastal environment, the Nature Conservancy’s Lightning Point Restoration Project was, and continues to be, a huge success.