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Protecting the Delicate Ecosystem of the Emerald Waters

Doing your part to keep marine life safe is a loving way to spend your day

The beaches of South Walton should be enjoyed by all. And with that desire comes a great responsibility. Residents and visitors alike are charged with caring for the community, on land and water, to truly preserve the beauty of the Emerald Coast. It can be as simple as properly disposing of garbage from your day at the beach, filling in holes in the sand after a day of play, or saying no to plastic straws by purchasing reusable ones. For those who truly care for this slice of heaven and the longevity of the land and its creatures, time can be spent engaged in eco-friendly activities that protect the waters and its inhabitants. Whether setting up permanent residence here or spending a week of vacation, it’s easier than ever before to find an earth-loving way to spend your day.

Save the Turtles
The Northwest Florida Coast is home to some of the most interesting and fascinating animals under the sun, and the sea turtle has come to represent both the simplicity and complexity of the ocean’s inhabitants. From the hatching of the egg and immediate determined crawl to the waves, and through years of complicated migrations, the sea turtle has earned its place in the hearts of many. However, irresponsible human action has threatened the very existence of this humble creature, and South Walton has taken a stand to protect it. You, too, can join the cause, and the first step is awareness. Innocent beach fun (digging holes in the sand, shining flashlights on the beach at night) can severely disrupt the lifecycle of the sea turtle, so know the rules before you go. Better yet, spend some time volunteering with South Walton Turtle Watch, a local group dedicated to the protection of the sea turtle. The group locates and marks sea turtle nests on the beach and raises awareness about turtle protection guidelines, providing the best possible chance for survival of these beautiful animals. Have some time to volunteer or want to donate to the cause? Visit southwaltonturtlewatch.org.

Skip the Motor
One of the most relaxing aspects of the beach is the ability to park the car upon arrival and hopefully not put the key back in the ignition until checkout day. Cycling, walking, paddle boarding…the modes of transit are numerous, and not only are these options better for your health, they’re also inarguably better for the environment. Headed to the beach? Skip the emissions your car leaves behind and take a beach cruiser for a cruise. Want to go explore the waves? Avoid the jet ski or motorized boat and opt instead for a paddle board, surf board, kayak, or sailboat. Did you know that deposits left from boats can actually change the water’s chemistry, adding compounds like zinc and copper, creating an environment that is overly alkaline or acidic? Chemicals left behind from fuel and oil can quickly create a hazardous and deadly environment for sea creatures. And the effects are not just chemical. Many marine animals, such as dolphins and manatees, choose to interact with people, and boat propellers have been known to injure these friendly creatures in the water. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to spend an eco-friendly day at the beach? Keep it simple. Rent a bicycle or paddle board, go for a walk, slow down to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the beach, in their most pure form.

Leave Only Footprints
It seems like such a simple concept, really, but when you really stop to examine it, it’s one of the most important ways you can protect the water and its residents. It’s as easy as this: whatever you bring to the beach should either be thrown away when you leave or taken with you when you go. That plastic bag carrying your lunch to the beach? It looks like a delicious jellyfish to sea turtles and dolphins, but then ultimately creates a deadly hazard once ingested. Those beautiful balloons you are hoping to capture in a photo to add to your Instagram feed? A suffocation mechanism for marine life, or a strangulation tool for animals who become wrapped in the string. That plastic straw in your frozen pumpkin spice mocha-what-have-you? Eaten by sea birds or even clogging up the nostrils of sea turtles. The Ocean Conservancy group reports that by 2050, 99 percent of all species of seabirds will be eating plastic and 95 percent of all individual seabirds will be negatively affected by trash discarded by humans. Leave only footprints? Such a simple concept, but such an important lesson to take to heart to protect the ocean’s creatures. You are truly their only hope for survival, so please don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Our beautiful beaches should be enjoyed by all, from the youngest child to the oldest sea turtle, and it is our responsibility to assure the waters and its animals have the best chance at longevity and health. If not for you, make conscious choices for those who can’t protect themselves. The beaches of South Walton and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are a picturesque place, but they are also a delicate ecosystem, a home to thousands of species of marine life that are relying on you to keep them safe. So do your part. It’s easier than you think.

About Scott Camp

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