Mobile Eagle Scout lands huge support in clean water initiative

Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 6:39 PM CDT
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FAIRHOPE, Ala. (WALA) - Eagle Scout, John Shell of Mobile set out a year ago to do something that would make a difference for those who fish and play along coastal Alabama’s waterways. Since then, he has placed 175 mini-reefs under piers and docks in south Alabama as part of the Eagle Reef Project.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023 a new milestone was reached as the University of South Alabama (USA) announced its partnership with the program. It was quite the stage for the 17-year-old St. Paul’s senior at Marriott’s Grand Hotel in Point Clear as he thanked a large crowd, including USA president, Joe Bonner, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chris Blankenship and local elected officials for the support.

St. Paul's senior, John Shell began his quest for cleaner and more sustainable waterways as his...
St. Paul's senior, John Shell began his quest for cleaner and more sustainable waterways as his Eagle Project with BSA Troop 147(Hal Scheurich)

Shell found Florida-based Ocean Habitats and its mini, dock-based marine reefs and thought it would be a good fit for our area, so he set out on a mission. Convincing people to invest in the reef system was tough at first but like anything good, word of mouth gave it momentum.

“It eventually got to a point where a lot of people were talking about it and when some person had a reef under their wharf, they’re like, hey, what’s that? Neighbors were like, what’s that and so, it kind of expanded and overcame that challenge,” Shell explained.

Not only did more dock owners take note but so did Partners for Environmental Progress (PEP). The non-profit PEP Foundation is a coalition of companies dedicated to applying science-based environmental best practices to their business. Shell was nominated for the latest PEP Foundation environmental stewardship award, which he won, and things have snowballed since.

“That brought him into our focus and then, we started investigating more about what he was doing, and we said, yeah. This is incredible,” said PEP Foundation chairman, Tom Bramblett. “Here’s a seventeen-year-old kid who’s out there making a difference in a way and all he needs is financial support.”

With the announcement of a partnership with the USA’s Stokes School for Marine and Environmental Sciences, that backing is a reality. The Grand Hotel has already purchased several reefs to go under its marina docks.

Ocean Habitats founder, Dr. David Wolff said the artificial reefs, tucked away in the unused space beneath piers and docks can make a huge difference in water quality and habitat for marine life.

“The main concept behind it is that you have wasted space underneath your dock. You don’t do anything with it and what these animals want is shade. There’s actually some that grow around here that have issues with the sun. You can bring that wasted space to life and kind of create a mini oasis underneath your dock without interfering with anything else that’s going on,” Wolf said.

The belief is that with Shell’s vision, PEP’s resources and USA’s connections, Mobile Bay and the surrounding area could see more than 1,000 Ocean Habitats dock reefs go in over the next year.

John Shell belongs to Boy Scouts Troop 147 and this all began as his Eagle Project. To support Shell’s efforts to reach one-thousand reefs or to purchase a mini reef system of your own, check out his website at