Mobile Bay Magazine’s 5th Annual Watershed Awards

Mobile Bay’s Annual Honor recognizes the environmental guardians of our communities.

Left to right: 1) Michael Williams, Salty Pirate’s Seafood 2) Kerry Mitchell, Salty Pirate’s Seafood 3) Morgan Counts, Dog River Clearwater Revival 4) John O’Melveny Woods, Clean Water Alabama 5) Chandra Wright, Gulf State Park 6) Don Bates, The Osprey Initiative 7) Chloe Ray, Mobile Baykeeper 8) Neil C. Johnston,Hand Arendall Harrison Sale LLC 9) Mary Kate Brown, The Nature Conservancy NOT PICTURED: Dip McMillian, Dippi Outdoors, Robin C. Roberts, litter warrior and Ramsey Sprague, Mobile Environmental Justice Action CoalitionOpening Photo by Matthew Coughlin.

Coastal Alabama’s waterways are as diverse as the people who love them. Baldwin and Mobile counties contain streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, bayous and the Gulf of Mexico. Our H20, salty or fresh, teams with fish and wildlife from tadpoles to sharks. But do not be fooled by tranquil waves. 

Nature’s gift requires human endurance and hard work. Many men and women dedicate their time and talents to the quest for a vibrant environment.  Toiling away at tasks large and small, these 11 Watershed Award winners make coastal Alabama a better place to live, work and recreate. Just add water.

Don Bates

In 2017, Don Bates participated in a volunteer cleanup to remove litter from Mobile’s One Mile Creek tributary when an idea hit. He realized, “We need to develop a low cost, low maintenance device, that intercepts litter, not just bags full, but with the capacity to catch thousands of pounds of trash continuously.” And so, he did.

The “Litter Gitter,” a floating aluminum device the size of a small boat, was created. Bates left his employer, Thompson Engineering, and created his own company, The Osprey Initiative. 

Seven years later, The Litter Gitter gets around, and so do Bates’ other machines. Based in Mobile, The Osprey Initiative serves Mobile and Baldwin Counties, 18 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico. His customer base includes 40 to 50 municipalities, 25 nonprofits and 25 corporate clients. 

According to local environmental advocacy groups, The Osprey Initiative’s traps remove thousands of pounds of trash from the Mobile Watershed monthly.

“My team deserves the credit,” he notes. “They are in the water almost every day. We look at it as not how many pounds of litter did I pick up, but how many miles of wetlands am I protecting by keeping litter out of it.”

He and his team fight the usual suspects. “Plastic bottles are not as difficult to collect because it stays in its form,” the business owner explains. “The hard one in our fight is Styrofoam. It breaks down into little pieces that break off when touched.”

A Louisiana native and resident of Fairhope, Bates grew up in a family that loved hunting, fishing and watersports. As a child, he frequently visited Mobile for fishing and other outdoor activities. The city by the Bay made an impression.

“I don’t think I could have started my business anywhere but Mobile,” he says. “We had so much support. Mobile has a lot of people who care for the bay and its water systems. We are glad to be part of it.”

This excerpt originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Mobile Bay Magazine by Emmett Burnett. You can read more about all the honorees on their website.


Recent Posts

What We Offer

The patented Litter Gitter is a tactical in-stream litter collection device used to intercept floating litter from stormwater runoff. The Osprey team handles all aspects of installing and maintaining these “trash traps” and compiles data on the items caught in them, recycling as much of the litter as possible.