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Voices of Water: Casi Callaway

Mobile Baykeeper Casi Callaway speaks for North America's fourth largest drainage basin

20100902 Alabama 1783 ODCasi Callaway talks to Alexandra Cousteau about why her waterway is so awesome and what keeps her in the game © Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

Mobile Baykeeper Casi Callaway was the perfect guide for our exploration of this unique area that is so rich in aquatic diversity - whether it was flying above the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in a Cessna 182 called “Girl Scout” or meeting me down in Bayou La Batre, Alabama where we filmed her interview or graciously hosting myself and the expedition crew for dinner at her lovely home in Mobile.

Casi, like so many of the waterkeepers we have met on expedition, is a true inspiration for the strong, articulate and impassioned voice that she brings to her community’s unique and invaluable waterway.

Maybe you can tell our readers a little bit about what we saw when we went up in that plane.

When you’re up in the plane looking at Mobile Bay you get to see how much absolute beauty, how green, how lush the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is. But then you also have the bird’s eye view of that thin strip of chemical plants. 80% of our delta is completely untouched by human hands and then there’s that remainder that we’re hitting so hard.

And what you see downstream are the results. You see muddy water, you see toxic and other chemicals and metals in the water from the exposed coal beds.

So as the Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s voice, tell us why it matters so much? 

The mobile bay watershed drains two thirds of the state of Alabama. It’s the fourth largest drainage basin in North America. Thousands of species exist and live and thrive in our delta. We are the number one most diverse state in the nation. But with that we’ve also become the number one for species loss. So our job in protecting the delta is absolutely crucial.

But for me it’s a lot more about the culture and the history and who we are as a people. I say Alabama is a very red state. But coastal Alabama specifically bleeds green. We know what the environment is; it’s in our lives, in our veins, in our blood.

So what drives you?

In college I sat in one session about earth day 1990 and I believed. I got it. So I was the Southeastern regional campus coordinator for Earth Day 1990. It was a very watershed moment. And I’ve been able to do this for almost 21 years now.

Honestly, I would say that for me this isn’t a job, it’s a calling. And I got called to do environmental protection work. I can do it. I couldn’t feed the hungry but I can do this job. I understand that it took us 200 years to mess it up and it’s going to take time to fix it. So I’m patient and I’m tenacious.

In 1999 the Mobile Baykeeper joined the Waterkeeper Alliance. What is it about the waterkeepers that make them such a good fit for the work you do? 

We really get that someone has to be the spokesperson for the water body. And that’s what a waterkeeper does.

I have the job of protecting and standing up for the Mobile Bay watershed. I do it everyday. Every decision I make, every issue we fight and get involved in that’s the one question we ask: What does this do for my water body?

Now tell me about the waterkeeper tattoos! 

Let's just say, seven years ago when I joined the board of the Waterkeeper Alliance, I fully embraced the movement...