Mobile Baykeeper is a nonprofit environmental protection organization that's dedicated to advocating for Coastal Alabama's Mobile Bay Watershed. The organization advocates to protect and promote clean water, clean air, and healthy communities.
Purpose of Mobile Baykeeper
Mobile Baykeeper's primary purpose is to protect the important and incredibly biodiverse Mobile Bay Watershed. The organization started in the late 1990s to address a single issue at a particular industrial location, but quickly expanded its scope to encompass the entire watershed.
Early Days: West Bay Watch
Mobile Baykeeper formed in 1997 as West Bay Watch when a group of concerned citizens joined forces to fight the construction of a chemical facility at the Theodore Industrial Park, which is located along the western shore of Mobile Bay. Through investigation of these plans, they discovered that Mobile County's economic leaders had, for decades, focused their efforts on industrial recruiting. The resulting pollution was so astounding that the Environmental Defense Fund's Toxics Release Inventory ranked Mobile County in the number two spot in the United States for the presence of chemicals known to be cancer hazards.
From Bay Watch to Baykeeper
In 1998, the mission was expanded and the organization's name was changed to Mobile Bay Watch, Inc., to express the reality that air and water quality issues affect the east and west sides of the Bay equally. The volunteers hired a full-time director, Casi Callaway, to serve the growing organization. In September 1999, Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. affiliated with the international organization, Waterkeeper Alliance. Callaway assumed the role of Mobile Baykeeper and the organization became Mobile Bay Watch, Inc./Mobile Baykeeper. In December 2005, the organization's name became Mobile Baykeeper. In 2020, Cade Kistler stepped into the Baykeeper role after Callaway became the City of Mobile's first Chief Resilience Officer.
Key Mobile Baykeeper Projects
Mobile Baykeeper leads and participates in many projects focused on protecting the Mobile Bay Watershed. The list below represents a few of the organization's key efforts. They have been involved in many other environmental protection efforts over the years. Their work will continue to evolve as more areas of concern are identified.
- Coal ash removal - There is a large coal ash pit on the grounds of a coal plant located in Mobile County. The energy producer that operates the plant is planning to leave the pit in place and cap it. Mobile Baykeeper is actively advocating to require the company to remove the coal ash rather than capping it in place, due to the threat its presence poses to the Mobile Bay Watershed.
- SWIM data - Through its Swim Where It's Monitored (SWIM) program, Mobile Baykeeper conducts water quality testing in areas not currently monitored by state agencies and makes results available via SWIM guide. This information lets people make informed decisions about where to swim or fish. You can subscribe to receive free weekly email updates or view the online SWIM map.
- Sewage spills - Mobile Baykeeper also actively monitors to identify and track sewage spills, producing a map of spill locations that can be viewed on their website. The organization actively advocates for resources to repair and properly maintain sewage systems. They work cooperatively with utility providers while also seeking to hold them accountable.
- SWAMP program - The organization provides education about the importance of clean water and the role of citizens in protecting water resources through its Strategic Watershed Awareness and Monitoring Program (SWAMP). This program includes classroom education paired with hands-on training for high school juniors and seniors who want to serve as volunteer water monitors.
- Anti-litter/Trash-free waters - Mobile Baykeeper advocates for litter and trash reduction. The organization hosts cleanup events during which volunteers take to the water in canoes or kayaks and/or walk the shoreline to remove floating and coastal trash and litter. They have also developed a litter toolkit that other organizations and communities can use to develop their own anti-litter events.
- Oil spill restoration - The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused catastrophic damage to Gulf Coast waterways, including the Mobile Bay Watershed. Restoration work is ongoing and will likely extend for several decades. Mobile Baykeeper remains involved with oil spill restoration efforts by working with federal, state, and local organizations to help ensure the wise use of funds allocated to coastal restoration.
Importance of the Mobile Bay Watershed
The Mobile Bay Ecosystem includes more than 250 waterways that impact four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee) and opens into the Gulf of Mexico. Callaway explains, "Mobile Bay is Alabama's central estuary system and provides a transitional zone, where the river's freshwater meets tidally influenced marine waters. Estuaries are environmentally and economically important because of their exceptional biological diversity and productivity." Callaway shares several key facts:
- "The Mobile Bay estuary has the fourth-largest freshwater flow (62,000 cubic feet per second) in the continental United States.
- The estuary provides flood control, natural filtration buffers for water quality, erosion control, recreation, and beautiful scenery.
- The outflow of the Mobile River into Mobile Bay creates a delta and extensive marshlands.
- The Mobile Bay Watershed includes many rivers, bays, creeks, bayous, lakes, cutoffs, branches, and sloughs.
- Endangered species in the area include the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, loggerhead sea turtle, and Alabama red-bellied turtle."
It's clear that Mobile Bay Watershed has a significant impact on Coastal Alabama and surrounding states. Callaway concludes, "Mobile Bay is our history, our economy, our life, and our love. It must be preserved for us as well as for future generations."
How to Get Involved With Mobile Baykeeper
There are many ways to get involved with Mobile Baykeeper. Callaway encourages, "The most important thing you can do is give locally! Becoming a member of the organization unites us as one voice in addressing issues related to the Mobile Bay Watershed." The organization offers many volunteer opportunities and hosts special events in which members of the public are encouraged to participate. The Publix Grandman Triathlon and Bay Bites Food truck festival are examples of the organization's signature fundraising events.
Making a Difference in Building Healthy Communities
The actions of concerned citizens don't have to be limited to Mobile Bay. No matter where you live, it's important to play a role in protecting the region's waterways and other natural resources. Callaway encourages citizens to take steps in their daily lives that will positively impact water and air quality, as well as the overall health of their communities. She recommends "using detergents without phosphates, gardening without chemicals and pesticides, and using fewer disposable products." She also encourages people to write letters to politicians and agencies about their commitment to the environment.