The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance offers tips on preserving the beauty of South Walton by Erika Zambello
With the arrival of summer comes warmer temperatures, clearer skies, and the gorgeous emerald and blue shades of the Gulf of Mexico. Locals and visitors alike flock to our sugar-sand coastlines to swim, walk, fish, and just stare at the horizon.
However, with greater levels of visitation comes a responsibility for each beach patron to become a Gulf of Mexico steward. With just a few simple steps, we can keep our coastlines clean and healthy for this summer season and into the future!
1) Can you say Sea Turtles?
Starting May 1 and continuing until the end of October, multiple species of sea turtles nest along our beaches. The females pull themselves up onto the sand at night, dig holes with their powerful flippers, and deposit ping-pong ball-sized eggs. Beach monitors mark their nests to protect them, but it’s important to avoid sitting or standing too close to the marked off areas. Additionally, did you know that sea turtles cannot move backwards? When people dig holes on the beach and don’t fill them up, mother turtles trying to nest can get stuck, burying themselves deeper and deeper as they seek to escape. To avoid this, merely fill in holes and take all chairs and supplies back when you leave the beach.
2) Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Plastic and other trash is particularly harmful in a beach setting. Not only does it look like food for birds, turtles, and other wildlife, it can also degrade into microplastics, which could end up in drinking water. Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you buy in everyday life, and avoid taking these items to the beach. Reuse what you can, and recycle what remains in the appropriate receptacles. Remember, cigarette butts do not biodegrade (they are the most common item found during beach cleanups), so dispose of them properly.
3) Beautiful dunes — look, but avoid touching.
Dunes are a critical part of our coastal ecosystems. Roots from the swaying sea oats hold the sand in place, creating habitat for shorebirds, beach mice, and more. The dunes themselves protected inland areas during storm surges and hurricanes. While dunes are pretty to look at, visitors must keep off their gentle slopes and refrain from picking the sea oats themselves; both cause erosion of the dunes. Luckily, one can photograph the dunes from a safe distance, and the sea oats make striking silhouettes during the sunset.
4) Use artistically decorated recycling bins for your fishing line.
Our region is known for its amazing angling opportunities, from surf fishing to boating to casting a line over a pier. Fishing line — also known as monofilament — can wreak havoc along our shorelines if accidentally thrown into the water. Nearly invisible, the fishing line wraps not only around birds and other species, but also can damage boat props and scuba equipment. Look for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s artistically decorated monofilament recycling bins at Charles E. Cessna Park, Thomas Pilcher Park, and Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, in Walton County, as well as along the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, Destin Harbor, and Ross Marler Parks in Okaloosa County.
To learn more about protecting our coastal areas, visit basinalliance.org.