Past land use practices associated with agriculture and development on present day Reserve lands has created a need for restoration efforts. For one to restore an area they must:
1) Determine what the flora, fauna, and ecosystem function of the land was originally
2) Determine the extent and cause of degradation and habitat loss
3) Determine the feasibility and actions that must be taken to return the area to pre-disturbance conditions.
One mission of Weeks Bay Reserve is to re-establish the natural ecosystem function to much of our land. Restoration practices may include invasive plant removal, establishing fire regimes on certain lands, and planting native vegetation. By doing this, we help restore and enhance natural resources and biological diversity in our area for present day and succeeding generations.
The Nature Trail Restoration Project began in 2001 with the assistance of grant monies from the Gulf of Mexico Foundation. To date drainage ditches transecting the restoration area have been either filled or dammed, increasing the residence time of precipitation. Multi-year herbicide application and removal of exotic invasive species has reduced the impact of non-native flora. Two prescribed burns have taken place as well as multiple efforts of establishing native flora species has resulted in limited success.
In October of 2004 title for the 82 acre Safe Harbor tract was acquired by Weeks Bay NERR. Previous to acquisition the property had been employed as a recreational vehicle and mobile home park which resulted in massive alterations to the property. Money is sought to enact a first phase effort to alleviate ecologically detrimental property alterations. First phase efforts will result in the formation of an expert advisory panel, completion of a baseline flora survey, reduction of exotic invasive species, removal of anthropogenic structures, enactment of a monitoring system and creation of a long term management plan.
A bog is a wetland type that accumulates acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material which is nutrient poor and typically moist. Years of fire suppression has reduced the total acreage of bog habitat that would otherwise be found on state owned properties within the Weeks Bay management area. As a result carnivorous pitcher plants and other species dependent upon bog habitat and its associated ecotones have been diminished in number.
Natural fire regimes promote favorable bog conditions by suppressing the growth of woody plants which both shade the area and transpire moisture. The bog at Weeks Bay uses fire as a management tool. This restoration site encompasses about 45 acres that was an open bog as late as the 1940's. Due to fire suppression the bog was encroached upon by woody plants up until fire management was initiated in 1993.
The shoreline of the state owned Swift Tract on Bon Secour Bay shows signs of erosion that appears to have been taking place for decades. This three mile shoreline would be expected to have a net zero loss where some areas are eroding as other areas are accreting. Evidence suggests that more lands are being lost than added. Some scientists suspect that the impact of the Mobile Ship Channel has increased wave energy resulting in a disruption of shoreline processes.
In an effort to evaluate this shoreline and remedy unnatural loss of lands, a two phase process has been implemented. First, a study has been initiated to evaluate the ecologic history of this shoreline habitat including submerged lands and shoreline composition. Second, if the study results suggest the benefit, a series of breakwater structures would be placed offshore (one-two hundred yards) with submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation planted shoreward. This would function to reduce energy coming onshore and establish marsh habitat to stabilize the system. Such breakwater/marsh plantings have been used with successful results; an example of such can be seen on Pensacola Bay before going over the bridge to Gulf Breeze, FL.
Phase II would begin with an implementation of the first breakwater and plantings. This stage of Phase II would be a demonstration with monitoring over a two year period. The goal of the project would be to stabilize loss of lands resulting in increased marsh habitat in Coastal Alabama. If monitoring of the demonstration stage suggests benefit, successive stages could ensue along the shoreline of the Swift Tract. Ongoing monitoring would include biotic and abiotic components and processes. See map that follows for overview.
For more information, contact Weeks Bay Stewardship Coordinator, Eric Brunden