Spring Reveals Our Spectacular South Walton Coastal Dune Lakes

March 19, 2020 by SoWal Staff

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.

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! 


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