SANTA ROSA BEACH — Gulf Power, in partnership with Southern Company, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other public and private partners, awarded a $40,000 Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program grant to further aquatic and dune restoration work in Walton County.

The grant has been awarded to the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and partners, and will support Citizen Science and community-based restoration for the coastal dune lakes of Walton county.

“This support from the Five Star Grant and Gulf Power allows us to expand our restoration work by allowing us to incorporate a variety of species into our dune restoration and revitalize our invasive plant removal treatments along the Dune Lakes,” said Brittany Tate, senior Grant Manager & Education Coordinator of Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. “This grant is also going to increase our research on these rare ecosystems by creating a citizen-scientist program that will monitor the phytoplankton in the lakes.”

Phytoplankton is the foundation of the aquatic food chain and consumes carbon dioxide that contributes to greenhouse gases.

Work will involve improving 70 acres of aquatic habitat and restoration of four acres of dune habitat. Through community-based restoration and citizen-scientist initiatives, this project will expand the understanding of the globally rare, critically imperiled coastal dune lakes of Walton county, Tate pointed out.

“With this type of support, we are able to garner numerous amounts of community volunteers, restore acres of habitat, gain lasting partnerships and educate thousands about our local area,” Tate said. “These grants create programs that last years beyond the grant cycle, and have a lasting impact on the Northwest Florida Community.”

Alliance project partners include Mattie M. Kelly Environmental Institute, Walton County Board of County Commissioners, Silver Sands School and local volunteers.

“Gulf Power is proud to continue our long-standing promise to natural resource conservation and stewardship through the Five Star and Urban Waters Program,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “By preserving and protecting our natural coastal habitats, we are giving back to the customers and communities we are privileged to serve.”

Since 2006, through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gulf Power in partnership with its parent company, Southern Company, and other partners has supported 17 water restoration projects totaling more than $1.5 million in Northwest Florida.

“Through these projects, more than 11,300 square feet of salt-tolerant vegetation has been planted, 3,600 square feet of intertidal habit established, and more than 3,000 K-12 school students engaged in coastal restoration,” said Blair. “With the Walton County Citizen Science and Community-based restoration project, our investment is amplified by growing the next generation of conservationists to carry on the work of protecting our vital coastal resources.”

Southern Company’s funding of the 2017 grants directly supports nine habitat-restoration projects across three states in the Southeast, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia —which are home to Southern Company’s retail electric-utility subsidiaries — helping to restore more than 89 acres and 9,850 feet of streambank.

The Five Star Program provides funding to diverse local partnerships for wetland, forest, streamside and coastal habitat restoration. In addition to Gulf Power, Southern Company and NFWF, other public-private partners include the Wildlife Habitat Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FedEx, Bank of America and Alcoa.

“These community-led projects will engage thousands of volunteers, students and local residents in the restoration of wetlands, streams and coastal habitats across the nation,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “The critical work done by our grantees will build on a long history of conservation success made possible by the public- and private-sector partners supporting the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program.”

Grant recipients were selected based on criteria that included critical habitat restoration, partnerships established with local government agencies and businesses, and their ability to provide educational and training opportunities for youth and the community at large, as well as other ecological, cultural and economic benefits.