GulfCorps: Restoration and Resilience

It’s hard to know where to look when assessing SCA’s GulfCorps. Do you focus on the team’s lengthy list of accomplishments? The number of young people who have turned their experience into employment? Or the testimonies of those who refer to their time with the Corps as life-changing?

GulfCorps is an ongoing effort designed to restore habitats and communities impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill while providing 300 area young adults with jobs in the region’s restoration economy.

Along with SCA, The Nature Conservancy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and The Corps Network launched GulfCorps in January, 2018. In its first season, teams consisting of 10 individuals – two experienced team leaders plus eight corps members aged 18-26 – were deployed for six months in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Many crew members were from underserved populations or were U.S. military veterans.

The program expanded to two teams per state in its Fall ‘ 18 season and this month, GulfCorps’ third term is just getting underway with two more teams active in each of the five Gulf States for extended terms stretching up to 10 months.

SCA has managed the Alabama teams since the start of the program. We immerse participants in an intensive orientation and training regime that familiarizes Corps members with the science, techniques, and tools employed in various restoration practices, and receive instruction on estuarine life, coastal habitats, and invasive species. In addition, they earn their Wilderness First Aid, Wildland Fire Chainsaw, and other certifications, and learn about leadership, team-building, diversity/equity/inclusion, and more.

In their first two terms, SCA’s GulfCorps has racked up an impressive list of achievements including:

  • Rebuilt 2,250 feet of boardwalk and maintained 4,000 feet of trails at Meaher State Park, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, and Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board property
  • Planted more than 6,400 sea oats and installed fencing to restore sand dunes on Dauphin Island public beaches
  • Removed more than 1,800 invasive apple snails and 4,500 eggs from Langan Lake and TriCentennial Park
  • Treated 400 acres of privet, popcorn trees, climbing ferns, coral ardisia, and other invasive species at multiple properties owned by state, local, and federal entities
  • Created and maintained 32,000 feet of fire lanes prior to prescribed burns in Mobile and Baldwin counties
  • Restored rare pitcher plant bogs at Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve with support from the Weeks Bay Foundation

As noted earlier, in addition to forging a more resilient Gulf Coast, the program strives to instill participants with job-marketable skills and experience. Thus far, 74% of SCA’s GulfCorps members have secured employment in the restoration economy. Others have continued their education and/or vocational training within the environmental field or returned to the GulfCorps as team leaders, where they assumed a supervisory and teaching role in support of new Corps members.

“SCA GulfCorps changed my life completely,” states Ashley Chastain, a 20-year-old from Mobile, AL. After accepting a GulfCorps position in Season 1, Ashley returned in Season 2 as an Apprentice Crew Leader. This summer, she took her third SCA position, conducting education and outreach for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North Louisiana Refuge Complex.

“SCA has given me a new outlook on the environment, an appreciation for the community I have grown up in, and has introduced me to a field I now want to make a career out of,” she says. “I could not be more thankful.”

“Joining GulfCorps allowed me to accomplish my goals and really opened my eyes to the environment,” adds Eric Lucas, 21 and also from Mobile. He credits “SCA career days specialized to each individual on the team” with helping him “finally figure out what I want to do in life.”

By combining habitat restoration with job creation, SCA’s GulfCorps is meeting its goal of building resiliency along the Gulf Coast.

Photos by John Stanmeyer © TNC