The more you know about the Emerald Coast, the more there is to appreciate. Take some time out before you come to learn why our sands are so white and our waters so green, as well as other interesting facts about our natural environment.
Secret of the Sands
The sands that compose the beaches of Destin, Ft. Walton Beach & Okaloosa Island are among the whitest and cleanest in the world, and the perfect oval shape of each grain of sand makes the beach “squeak” when you walk on it.
You can thank the Apalachicola River, 130 miles east of Ft. Walton Beach, for the type of sand found here. The quartz-sand material, delivered to the Gulf of Mexico from the Appalachian mountains via the river, was deposited along the shores when Santa Rosa Island began to extend like an arm from Destin. This extension continues today as these small, white grains of quartz sand move to the west before reaching their final destination at the Pensacola Pass.
Sand dunes, which protect the coastline from storm winds and waves, are formed when waves carry sand to the beach, where the wind picks it up and blows it inland. Gradually, the sand piles up and plants such as sea oats begin to grow in it. The sea oats slowly cover the entire dune and protect it from erosion. If people strip the sea oats from the dunes by walking on them or driving dune buggies over them, storm winds and waves will be able to cut through the dunes and cause severe damage inland. For this reason, it is important to remember: KEEP OFF THE DUNES.
Much of Florida is protected by a chain of barrier islands – narrow strips of sand that act as a buffer for storm waves. In their natural state, barrier islands contain a range of habitats, from sandy beaches to salt marshes and brackish lagoons. Behind the front dunes, which can vary in height and distance due to the salt spray and wind, thickets of shrubs that can tolerate strong wind and spray create a protective hedge in front of coastal forests. These forests trap and anchor sand, help stabilize the dunes and protect the shoreline against storms and hurricanes. They are also critical stopovers for songbirds migrating between the tropics and North America. Farther back from the ocean, the dunes flatten, ending at saltwater lagoons bordered by salt marshes in North Florida and mangrove swamps in South Florida.