By Alison Schwartz, FWS Gulf Restoration Office Public Affairs detailee
A 99-acre parcel located off the coast of Alabama, called Pilot Town, is now part of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Finalized on December 28, 2021, the acquisition of Pilot Town marks another success story in the restoration of critical coastal habitat after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill.
The $6.5 million acquisition came as a result of the DWH settlement funding and collaborative efforts between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the local community’s active engagement to preserve the land.
Although small in size, Pilot Town holds significant ecological, economic and historical value. In the 1800s-early 1900s, Pilot Town was home to harbor pilots whose job was to meet boat captains at the mouth of Mobile Bay and help them navigate the Bay’s shallow waters, granting the town its name. The inhabitants of Pilot Town were the epitome of a community, working together to make their ship-navigation business successful and even owning the land in a unique utopian communal style. A hurricane in 1906 destroyed the settlement and displaced the inhabitants, but their legacy of communal ownership likely protected the land from development. Now, as part of Bon Secour NWR, Pilot Town will continue to be protected, along with the legacy of its inhabitants. Pilot Town also adds valuable coastal habitat to the Bon Secour NWR, including sandy beaches and dunes, sandy shrub scrub, coastal marshes, maritime forest, and estuarine habitat. Among other ecological and economic benefits, these vulnerable coastal habitats serve as:
“Conserving the habitat of Pilot Town is ecologically and historically vital,” said Steve Northcutt, Director of Protection with the Alabama Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “On top of that, it’s also important to the local economy. Through the collaborative restoration effort that resulted from Deepwater Horizon disaster, we are able to ensure this property remains a pristine gem on the Alabama coast.”
Protecting this unique sliver of land is a win for the local community, the DWH Trustees, and restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.