Coastal dune lakes a rare gem along the Emerald Coast

Highlighting the Panhandle's Coastal Dune Lakes
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - They are a sight exclusive to the Panhandle.

“A lot of people come from far and near to see these amazing features,” Melinda Gates, environmental coordinator for Walton County said.

Coastal Dune Lakes are bodies of water within two miles of the coastline. There are 15 of these lakes along the Emerald Coast. On the entire globe, there are only four other places to see these beautiful coastal features: Oregon, Madagascar, Australia, and New Zealand.

Unlike other dune lakes around the world, the dune lakes here have an extra special trait.

“Ours are unique because they have what’s called an outfall. So periodically as we get rainfall or water from upstream comes into the lakes it’ll flood the area,” said Gates.

Those outfalls are what create a unique relationship between the lakes and the Gulf. Flooding allows water in the outfalls to break through the dunes. Then the brackish water mixes with the clear salt water in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, each lake has a different salinity.

“There’s interchanging waters between the salt water and the fresh waters, and every coastal dune lake along the Walton County coast is different,” Gates said.

Those differences are what bring such beautiful and unique wildlife to the ecosystem.

“They will have both saltwater and freshwater species, you’ll find both vegetation and animal species that can adapt to both types of environments,” said Gates.

As a result, many travel from near and far to visit the coastal dune lakes in the area. They are a major part of Walton County’s ecotourism. In an effort to share their beauty with tourists, a handful of the lakes are contained within state parks.

“The state parks are an amazing place to come and enjoy the coastal dune lakes, mostly because it’s so primitive. You get to enjoy these natural systems in their true natural state,” Gates said.

The state parks also exist for conservation. The parks protect the lakes from harmful runoff and construction that would destroy the natural ecosystem. Gates says the efforts should allow tourists to enjoy the rare features for years to come.

“People can come, they can visit, they can see a coastal dune lake, they can go kayaking and fishing and paddle boarding and just enjoy the water and the ecosystem that they live within,” said Gates.

Thanks to the efforts of Walton County officials, those in the Panhandle can continue to enjoy these lakes knowing they have a view that can’t be found anywhere else.