“We’ve been very blessed in Alabama. We’ve traditionally had low population density in the watershed. One of the reasons I love living here is just being able to get up in the Delta. Ten minutes from here and I can be in this vast wilderness that is not only aesthetically beautiful but also providing all of these essential life-support services for humankind and I think we take that for granted. But it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be there in the future. So I think the average citizen just needs to be aware that we’re all connected to this, and that there are limits to growth and how much humans can exploit our resources.”
Finnell Forrest has been fishing off the Causeway in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta for nearly a decade. His dad, who gave up fishing years ago, started taking him here when he was a kid.
At this little spot on the Blakeley River, not much more than spitting distance from the Causeway, Forrest and his buddy David Stallworth angle for largemouth bass, brim, crappie, redfish, and speckled trout. But no black drum — they let that go. “Too many worms in them,” he says.
Finnell likes fishing in the spring and fall best. He watches the tidal calendar and prefers fishing this locale to a falling tide. “The Blakeley is a pretty spot,” he says. “I get in my boat sometime and go up the river a bit. It’s a 17-foot-center console called a Bayhawk. It’s my first boat.”
On most days, Finnell uses a spinning rod with a J-hook and cork, with about three to four feet between bobber and hook. “[These freshwater fish] don’t eat down, they eat up,” he says. “They’re an ambush fish so they have to look up at their prey and eat them.” Today he and David are fishing with shiners and live shrimp they picked up at the bait shop just down the road, “Hooked By The Bay,” the last of its kind on the Causeway.
After a day on the water, Finnell cleans his haul at home and fries them up, using a mixture of cornmeal and wheat flour, and that seems to work pretty well, he says. Pan-fried mostly. Sometimes a deep fry. Baked occasionally.
Asked what he likes most about fishing the Delta, he says it’s “the relaxation, the wildlife. It’s peace of mind.”
Old habits die hard in America. And one habit that has been especially difficult for Americans to kick is our wide-ranging and unrelenting addiction to single-use consumer plastic.
What makes plastic so insidious, and quite frankly so disturbing as a pollutant, is its omnipresence and longevity in our environment. It’s in the land, it’s in the air, it’s in the water, and now, it’s in our bloodstream, in the form of micro-plastics (which are generally considered to be any form of plastic less than five millimeters in length). And it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. (It is said that a plastic grocery bag will remain in the environment for up to 500 years.)
While plastic’s long-term effects on human health are still the subject of inquiry and debate, according to the Plastic Health Coalition, a research and advocacy alliance, we do know that micro-plastics disrupt endocrine function in humans, not unlike PFAs and other toxic chemicals. And it’s not just humans that fall prey to its poison. It’s been forecasted that by midcentury there will be more plastic by weight in our oceans than fish, a fact that augurs grave consequences for our fisheries and marine life. If that’s not enough, recent reports reveal the skies are now raining micro-plastics at a level much greater than previously thought. That fact alone should be enough to make the multitudes weep. Read more.
As I write this late Wednesday afternoon, a disturbance is percolating along the coast of Guatemala, over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. While it doesn’t appear to be a threat to Coastal Alabama, the storm does serve as a reminder that we are entering the playoff portion of hurricane season, that time when things start to get interesting. Days to come will likely see school closings, frantic, last-minute runs to Publix, and endless hours gazing at the Weather Channel, watching Jim Cantore stand sideways in the wind on some southerly beach, bellowing into his mic and looking as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.
Those who dwell in the hurricane-prone states often say they would take hurricanes over tornadoes if given the option. A hurricane you can see coming, they say. Well, nobody saw Sally coming. It appeared out of nowhere, seemingly on little cat feet, and left a lion’s wrath in its wake, causing more than $300 million worth of damage in Alabama alone.
Sally, which introduced itself in September of 2020, arrived after months of lockdown. As it approached land, it veered eastward and made landfall in Gulf Shores as a strong Category 2, thankfully missing the coal-ash pond at Plant Barry, which houses more than 21 million tons of ash within an earthen dam along the banks of the Mobile River. At the Barry site, the Mobile River has a flood stage of 12 feet and will spill over the dam if it reaches beyond 20 to 25 feet. A direct hit by a hurricane, one imagines, would not be good.
Mobile Baykeeper’s recent Notice Of Intent To Sue filed against Alabama Powerconcerns the ongoing pollution of groundwater caused by the ash pond — a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s Coal-Combustion Residuals rule. The pollution of the groundwater, whose testing shows levels of arsenic more than 800 percent above the legal threshold — is cause enough to move the ash into an upland, lined landfill, or have it recycled into concrete. But a major spill — whether caused by a hurricane, flood, or a collapse of the earthen dam (not unlike the historic Kingston, Tennessee ash spill in 2008) — could be an apocalyptic blow exceeding the BP oil disaster in its scope.
Of course, the late-summer season comes with other agonies. The constant days of rain create challenges for our waterways, as we see heightened levels of bacteria in our Bay due to increased runoff and sewage overflows. Our SWIM program, which reports bacteria levels at 14 sites in Mobile Bay on a weekly basis, will keep you informed on where it’s safe to swim and and play.
Below you can find out what else we’ve got going on this month, including our annual food truck festival Bay Bites, which is happening August 27 in Cooper Riverside Park. You can buy tickets here.
And please consider supporting Baykeeper’s efforts to protect our watershed from coal ash and excess bacteria with a financial donation. Each donation is an investment in our watershed’s future.
As always, thanks for your support.
— Caine O’Rear, Communications Director, on behalf of the Baykeeper Team
From the patio of the Bluegill Restaurant, you cannot see the candy-striped smokestacks of Plant Barry rising twenty miles away in north Mobile County, at the site of Alabama Power’s 600-acre coal-ash pond. The back-end of the restaurant, which sits on the eastern portion of The Causeway in Spanish Fort, looks out over Pass Picada channel — a veritable honey-hole for redfish, speckled trout, and largemouth bass— before flowing into Chacaloochee Bay. Families stand along the rickety dock after dining and kids angle for privileged glimpses of alligators loitering idly for scraps. Elvis likely stood here during one of several Bluegill experiences in the ’50s, perhaps after the time he performed at a Vigor High School assembly, only to have the show cut short due to the saltiness of his below-the-belt gyrations.
Standing along the Pass in the magic hour, among the cattails and cordgrass, hyacinth and lotus blooms, it’s easy to forget the threat that looms northward in the Delta. Before the 2008 coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. — a spill that resulted in nearly $3 billion in damages and cleanup costs — the issue of coal ash was not part of the public imagination. Over the past seven years, due to the work of Mobile Baykeeper and others, coal ash is now very much on the minds of coastal Alabamians.
If you’re not privy to the news, you can learn why Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice Of Intent To Sue Alabama Power for its plans to leave more than 21 million tons of coal ash buried along the Mobile River, a historic body of water that was designated by American Rivers as the “third most endangered river” in the U.S. in 2022. Litigation has always been a means of last resort for Mobile Baykeeper, and these recent events are no exception.
In this time of global upheaval and cataclysm (both actual and imagined), when all seems so transient and short-lived, we have the chance to ensure a vital corner of our world, and one of national significance no less, is preserved and protected just as it should be. As always, we can’t do it without your support.
As we hurtle into the second week of this savage heatwave, the need to jump in the water and cool off becomes even stronger. Fortunately, our weekly SWIM program lets you know where it’s safe to splash around and get some relief.
Here in Coastal Alabama, we are lucky to live on the water during the summer sizzle — the psychological benefit of that is huge. Anyone who’s spent some dog days in a landlocked region knows exactly what I’m talking about.
What separates Coastal Alabama from the rest of the Yellowhammer State is the water and the culture that it engenders. Early in its history, Mobile operated as a sort of colony, almost oblivious to the laws and customs of its more northern statesmen. It had its own code. It’s a history peppered with pirates, sailors, and libertines, a culture once closer in kin to Havana than New York. You just have a different mindset when you’re a port town on the water. There’s something about the mystery of the sea and the possibility of escape and change. For that, we are lucky.
Our waters offer myriad summer excursions. Family trips to the beach. Fishing tournaments. Mullet tosses. Kayaking on the Delta. Tubing. I could go on.
I was lucky enough to spend several childhood summers in Point Clear, where I learned to ski and cast a bait-net. I heard the bells cling in the pre-dawn dark announcing numerous jubilees. I caught speckled trout from a Stauter near Middle Bay Light. And I rode my Power Wheels off the wharf into Mobile Bay kamikaze-style with my fellow hooligans (It was the ’80s, after all).
Water is the source of all things Mobile, and we protect it in various ways at Mobile Baykeeper. We investigate citizen concerns about pollution. We track sewage spills and let you know when and where they occur. We educate our youth about the watershed in our schools and libraries. Protecting our waterways is a constant battle that requires daily vigilance, and it can’t happen without your support.
A writer, naturalist, and filmmaker, Ben Raines has been reporting on environmental affairs in Alabama for most of this century. As a former journalist for the Press-Register, he served as our region’s foremost environmental watchdog. Since leaving the paper, he has worked in film, authored books and scientific papers, and served as the executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation, an environmental non-profit. His 2017 documentary about an ancient underwater cypress forest in the Gulf of Mexico, The Underwater Forest, was broadcast on public television, and other footage he’s shot has appeared on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic TV. In 2018, Raines made history when he discovered the remnants of the Clotilda, the last American slave ship, at the bottom of the Mobile River near Twelve Mile Island.
On December 12, Raines will release his latest offering to the world, Saving America’s Amazon, via New South Books. The book, which includes a foreword by eminent biologist and Mobile native E.O. Wilson, examines the rich biodiversity of the Mobile River Basin (a.k.a. “America’s Amazon”) and the environmental threats it faces as a result of pollution, increased development, and unscrupulous decisions by industry and elected officials. Yet despite a poor environmental record, Alabama still boasts more species per square mile than any other state.