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St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center > Alabama Barrier Island Restoration Study > Project Overview

Alabama Barrier Island Restoration Study

Project Overview

Aerial photograph looking west along Dauphin Island, Alabama, taken in September 2016.
Aerial photograph looking west along Dauphin Island, Alabama, taken in September 2016.

Dauphin Island is a barrier island along the northern Gulf of Mexico with a population of over 1,200 people concentrated on its eastern end. The island protects mainland Alabama’s coastal communities and resources from storms, while also providing recreational opportunities (fishing, beach tourism, etc.) and other economic benefits to the local community and state. Dauphin Island (including its undeveloped western end) provides expansive coastal habitat, with over 200 acres of beach, dunes, overwash fans, intertidal wetlands, maritime forest and freshwater ponds in addition to shallow-water nearshore areas. These habitats support many living coastal and marine resources, including threatened and endangered species such as the piping plover. The island also protects the eastern Mississippi Sound ecosystem by reducing the wave energy and preserving the salinity structure for submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), oysters, shrimp, crabs, and other species. Extreme events have severely impacted Dauphin Island over the past decades, including most recently Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Isaac and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Focused efforts to maintain and restore the island have occurred, but a comprehensive plan for restoration of Dauphin Island focusing on its importance to the State’s natural coastal resources has not been developed.

Recently the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) provided funding for an inter-agency effort (State of Alabama, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE], and the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS]) to create an island-wide comprehensive restoration plan. This effort will investigate viable options for the restoration of Dauphin Island as a sustainable barrier island to protect and restore island resources, including habitat and living coastal and marine resources. Three USGS science centers are engaged in this project including the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC), the Wetland and Aquatic Research Center (WARC) and the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. The SPCMSC is working on research efforts focused on:

These activities will be integrated with other aspects of the Dauphin Island project to allow stakeholders and decision-makers to evaluate potential restoration alternatives in a comprehensive and data-driven way. For example, the morphodynamic modeling of the island receive and provide feedback to a USACE structural response model being used to evaluate the likely evolution of a rock-wall structure currently closing Katrina Cut (an extensive breach in the island). The modelled physical evolution of the island will also be used by USACE numerical modelers to evaluate the potential impacts of restoration alternatives on water quality in Mississippi Sound. Each of these frameworks will inform a habitat model that will be used to evaluate how restoration alternatives will influence the Dauphin Island ecosystem. Ultimately, the results of all of the numerical modeling efforts will be incorporated into a formal decision-support framework that directly uses the results of the study to provide quantitative evaluation of the benefits and uncertainty of different restoration alternatives.

Information about research being conducted at the other USGS science centers involved in this project can be found here:

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