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Byrne introduces bill to protect underwater forest

This is the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, with thousands of trees still rooted in the dirt they were growing millennia ago before being reclaimed by the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, has introduced the Alabama Underwater Forest National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act, a bill that would designate the site of an ancient cypress forest found 60 feet underwater south of Gulf Shores as a National Marine Sanctuary.

“The underwater forest is another unique Alabama gem with global importance. As the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, we must take action now to protect it,” Byrne said. “The Alabama Underwater Forest National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act protects Alabamians ability to fish, dive, and recreate at the site while ensuring none of its invaluable artifacts can be removed or damaged. This designation will also open up further tourism opportunities along our Gulf Coast.”

“I would like to thank Ben Raines, whose work with me after his discovery of the site has been instrumental in crafting this bill,” Byrne said.

Some 60,000 years ago, the planet was cooler than it is now. This forest is a relic from an ice age before the last ice age 16,000 to 10,000 years ago. Tons of water were locked up vast glaciers that covered the globe from not just the Arctic but as far south as St. Louis.

Herds of wooly mammoths, giant bison, mastodons, wooly rhinos, horses and American camels were pursued by saber toothed cats, dire wolves, and the massive cave bear.

With so much water locked up in snow and ice, ocean levels were significantly lower than they are now. Gulf Shores, which is a barrier island town today, was not the Alabama coast then. The coast was much further south. The underwater forest is a remnant from that bygone age and appears to be a wholly unique relic of our planet’s past.

This is the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, with thousands of trees still rooted in the dirt they were growing in millennia ago before being reclaimed by the Gulf of Mexico.

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For scientists, this a treasure trove of information about the types of plants that inhabited the Gulf Coast during the ice age and before humans. That world was impacted by a sudden sea rise.

The work of the team investigating the site is detailed in Ben Raines’s documentary, The Underwater Forest, co-produced by This is Alabama and the Alabama Coastal Foundation.

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He is not running for re-election.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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Legislature

The measure now travels to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for her signature.

Legislature

The bill now heads to Gov. Ivey’s desk to be signed.

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