Green by Nature

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Mother Nature plays the starring role on the Emerald Coast, where greening is more than a buzzword.

Sunlight dances across emerald green Gulf of Mexico waters as they brush 24 miles of white-sand beaches created centuries ago from finely ground Appalachian quartz. Pods of dolphins, symbols of good fortune to mariners, cavort in the surf and sandpipers zigzag in the waves along the shoreline. Giant sea turtles come ashore each summer to lay their eggs on protected beaches. Colorful Monarch butterflies stop over on their annual fall migration to Mexico. It's no wonder that protecting this beautiful environment is a top priority here.

Enjoying Nature's Bounty

Nature's gifts are not taken lightly by the area's coastal communities, including Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island. Almost 60 percent of Emerald Coast beaches are preserved from development, meaning there's plenty of space for kicking back under an umbrella or building the best sandcastle on the beach. Snorkel the clear waters right off the beach. Beachcomb for treasures. Hang around for a sunset picnic – the sun paints a daily masterpiece across the sky and water as it drops below the horizon. It's no wonder that Emerald Coast's beaches are acclaimed among "Best Beaches" and "Favorite Family Destinations" by visitors and leading travel publications.

When it's time for a break from the beach, go eye-to-eye with sea life at Florida's Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island. Sail the harbors and bay onboard a glass-bottom boat or dolphin-watching cruise. Watch avid anglers reel in their catch or cast a line off the Okaloosa Pier, jutting more than 1,200 feet out into the Gulf. Check out the stunning mural by Robert Wyland at Legendary Marina, a Florida Clean Marina, in Destin. Golf side-by-side with nature at Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club, a certified Audubon Sanctuary.

Destin lives up to its nickname of the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village." The Destin Fishing Fleet is the largest saltwater charter fishing fleet in Florida. With many species of fish living in area waters, a hearty catch is almost guaranteed, and restaurants are ready to cook your catch when the boat docks.

Nurturing Nature's Gifts

In this area, the Okaloosa County Environmental Council (recognized as one of the first eco-awareness groups in Florida) has been dedicated to preserving the area's natural assets since 1987, long before greening became a buzzword. Ongoing beach maintenance and nourishment and a proactive Aqualab water monitoring program set eco-benchmarks. And Earth Day in April and Okaloosa Pride Week in September are celebrated with community-wide beach clean-ups. (if you happen to be in town, join in and snag a free T-shirt for your help.)

The Florida Green Lodging Program recognizes environmentally conscientious lodging facilities across the state. Ramada Plaza Beach Resort on Okaloosa Island is the first Okaloosa County property to receive Florida Green Lodging Certification. Don't worry – staying green doesn't mean giving up creature comforts or first-class service. Perched on the beach, this 335-room resort is packed with amenities such as a Polynesian-style grotto pool with cascading waterfalls, swim-up bar, a Splash Garden and a host of exciting programs for young guests. You can even contribute your own creative eco-ideas via their Greening Suggestion Box.

Other area hotels that have recently applied for Florida Green Lodging Certification include Four Points Sheraton, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Sunspree, Cayo Grande, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Sleep Inn – Destin and Holiday Inn Express – Niceville.

See For Yourself

The Emerald Coast is less than a day's drive from most of the southeast United States. Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) offers direct flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Memphis and Tampa, and Destin Airport hosts private and small charter flights. Their southern hospitality is warm, and their accommodations, dining and fun won't break the family budget.

This article is brought to you by the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information, visit www.destin-fwb.com.


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