Spring Reveals Our Spectacular South Walton Coastal Dune Lakes

It’s an exciting time of year in SoWal - when locals break out of hibernation, prepare for tourist season, and plan for stellar outdoor fun. Fortunately, our community is filled with stunning landscapes and enlightening cultural activities throughout the year to keep us engaged and entertained. Our coastal dune lakes, with their spectacular wildlife and brilliant sunsets, give us year-round canvases to observe, photograph and paint. Spring is the perfect time to celebrate the burst of new life outdoors and to appreciate how delicate and rare our coastal dune lake ecosystems are.

Our string of fifteen coastal dune lakes that dominate the landscape along the coastline of South Walton have recently gained more attention than ever. Understanding how precious they are and doing our part to protect them is an ongoing effort. Dynamic, constantly changing bodies of water, the lakes are directly impacted by frequency, strength, and duration of storm activity. It's easy to see the changes in the landscape caused by substantial rains this year.

Human activities, often driven by a desire for growth and development, also can affect the natural ebb and flow of the coastal dune lakes. We must remind ourselves just how fortunate we are to enjoy the beauty of these geological treasures. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory classified the lakes as “critically imperiled in Florida because of extreme rarity.”  The lakes received a state  “S1” rating because of extreme rarity - or because of extreme vulnerability to extinction due to some natural or man-made factors.


Of course man cannot control nature, and why should we? It would behoove us to carefully watch our man-made factors that so affect the dune lakes and the surrounding ecosystems. After all, healthy ecosystems create a healthier planet – and that includes humans.  

In 2002, a Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board (CDLAB) was created “to ensure the protection, health and environmental integrity of the county’s globally rare and imperiled coastal dune lakes.” The board exists to provide sound recommendations to the Walton County Board of Commissioners on issues that affect the lakes. The CDLAB meets six times per year, the 4th Thursday of the month.

With the renewed interest in the coastal dune lakes, you can bet each meeting has a full agenda. CDLAB just held a workshop to determine the duties and roles of the board and re-evaluate their mission statement. Ongoing efforts by CDLAB and other organizations such as Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) and the Walton County Tourist Development Council lead the way for protecting these natural habitats, estuaries of so many shorebirds and other wildlife.

Be sure to see: Florida Landscape Photography Exhibit at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet.

Our SoWal community has opened its arms to award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer Elam Stoltzfus of Live Oak Productions, as guest of Seaside’s Escape 2 Create program. With over 20 years of hosting artists in residence, Escape 2 Create is a core program of The Seaside Institute, working with other local non-profit arts organizations to enhance creative culture of the area.

Elam has been here in South Walton capturing images of our lakes and interviewing folks about the environment for his upcoming production, a documentary on the coastal dune lakes – to help spread the word about their beauty and rarity. Elam’s talent is amazing, and his tenacity to get out in a canoe with camera equipment in January’s icy cold temperatures at sunrise (before even the birds) is more than admirable. Elam generates stunning footage that is visually convincing. I can’t wait for the film to be released.

Spring is a beautiful time to explore the world of nature and we have much to be thankful for, so—with gratitude—get outdoors! Enjoy! 

About the author

is written by Ginger Jackson Sinton

Ginger Jackson Sinton is the author of Rare Coastal Dune Lakes: Biodiversity and a Sense of Home, - a coffee table book about the lakes and the surrounding Scenic 30A area. She is owner of GS Designs, a graphic design/marketing company based in Atlanta, mother of two, nature lover, and part-time Walton resident. Website


It confounds me that these lakes are not listed Florida Outstanding Waters. The only dune lake listed is in Bay County. Not one Walton lake has received the designation and the protection from development and degradation that status would convey with the Florida DEP. Just this winter, wetlands adjacent to both Eastern and Western Lakes were logged and filled with the blessing of The DEP and Walton County environmental departments.

Indeed! Where to start? Maybe ask the Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board, the author, CBA if anything has been started?

I just found this page which talks about the Outstanding Florida Waters program, and how to go about getting such a designation made:


How can we get some people together to do this? I was horrified last week to notice two new wild areas, at least one of them a wetland, along 30-A that had been clear-cut and paved over for parking lots - I thought this wasn't permitted? Every square inch of South Walton will be paved, or at least denuded of native vegetation before it's over. I've been visiting and owning property in the area for 30+ years and have witnessed the relentless, tragic destruction of the place.

The problem is that there's no good way for "non-full-time-resident" property-owning conservationists to communicate with each other, and hence get anything done. Is there any way to get these people together such that they can have an effect on the local short-sighted policies?

Hi Chris - sounds great - we are happy to help any way we can. Check out the SoWal Forum with lots of communication between locals and second homeowners and interested visitors - 

Thanks so much - will do!

Here's a note:

On Wednesday and Thursday, you will see a new face at the District 5 Commissioner’s Office.  Melinda Gates is an Environmental Specialist/Coastal Resource Liaison for the Walton County Environmental Department and has been on staff since June 2013.  With a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida and close to 10 years of experience in the environmental field, she brings much insight regarding wetland ecosystems and federal, state, and local regulations. Melinda's environmental experience was obtained from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Okaloosa County Health Department; her  tasks include providing oversight and support to the Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board, conducting wildlife lighting reviews and compliance assistance to property owners, and providing environmentally related technical assistance to Code Enforcement on issues affecting the Coastal Dune Lakes and other sensitive coastal resources as delineated in the Walton County Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code.  Additionally, she will be working with citizens and non-profit groups on environmental issues and projects including activities associated with the RESTORE Act and artificial reefs, as well as coordination of the Habitat Conservation Plan to insure compliance with the federal Incidental Take Permit.  You may contact Melinda, by calling (850)892-8108 or (850)231-2978.

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