Santa Rosa Beach's Coastal Dune Lakes: Part of An Exceedingly Rare Natural Ecosystem

By: Hilda Mitrani

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On a drive through South Walton a year ago, I saw gorgeous coastal sand dunes and ephemeral coastal dune lakes. Juxtaposed next to the freshwater dune lakes, the glistening bright white quartrz sand and emerald waters of the Gulf create a scene prettier than any postcard.

I was intrigued and took some photos but had no knowledge about what I was seeing. I did know that I had never seen anything quite like that topography in my travels.

Turns out these coastal dune lakes are exceedingly rare ecosystems. There are only a few places in the world where they exist. In addition to Florida, they're found in the Pacific northwestern region of the USA, in Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand.

On Scenic 30A in northwest Florida, there are fifteen named coastal dune lakes, the highest concentration in the world. Three of the named lakes are at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. These are Morris, Campbell and Stallworth Lakes. Other lakes are found at Grayton Beach, Deer Lake and Camp Helen, according to Lori Ceier, of Walton Outfitters, which provides guided tours and equipment for visitors.

Humans aren't the only beings to appreciate this unique region. A large quantity of birds also nest here, including least terns. The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society is dedicated to the protection of this habitat, environmental education, and creating a greater appreciation of Northwest Florida’s natural beauty.

The Society's next bird walk, on August 21 at 7:30 a.m., will be led by Don Ware on Navarre and Opal Beaches. For more information, call (850) 862-6582.

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