October has been designated as Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month by Walton County government. Walton County is home to 15 named coastal dune lakes along 26 miles of coastline. These lakes are a unique geographical feature and are only found in a few places in the world including Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, and here in Walton County.
A coastal dune lake is defined as a shallow, irregularly shaped or elliptic depressions occurring in coastal communities that share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico through which freshwater and saltwater is exchanged. They are generally permanent water bodies, although water levels may fluctuate substantially. Typically identified as lentic water bodies without significant surface inflows or outflows, the water in a dune lake is largely derived from lateral ground water seepage through the surrounding well-drained coastal sands. Storms occasionally provide large inputs of salt water and salinities vary dramatically over the long term.
Our coastal dune lakes are even more unique because they share an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico, referred to as an “outfall”, which aides in natural flood control allowing the lake water to pour into the Gulf as needed. The lake water is fed by streams, groundwater seepage, rain, and storm surge. Each individual lake’s outfall and chemistry is different. Water conditions between lakes can vary greatly, from completely fresh to significantly saline.
A variety of different plant and animal species can be found among the lakes. Both freshwater and saltwater species can exist in this unique habitat. Some of the plant species include: rushes (Juncus spp.), sedges (Cyperus spp.), marshpennywort (Hydrocotyleumbellata), cattails (Typha spp.), sawgrass (Cladiumjamaicense), waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.), watershield (Braseniaschreberi), royal fern (Osmundaregalis var. spectabilis), rosy camphorweed (Pluchea spp.), marshelder (Ivafrutescens), groundsel tree (Baccharishalimifolia), and black willow (Salixnigra).
Some of the animal species that can be found include: western mosquitofish (Gambusiaaffinis), sailfin molly (Poecilialatipinna), American alligator (Alligatormississippiensis), eastern mud turtle (Kinosternonsubrubrum), saltmarsh snake (Nerodiaclarkii ssp.), little blue heron (Egrettacaerulea), American coot (Fulicaamericana), and North American river otter (Lutracanadensis). Many marine species co-exist with freshwater species due to the change in salinity within the column of water.
The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Come celebrate Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation month as our team provides a guided walking tour of the nature trail surrounding Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park. Join local County Extension Agents to learn more about our globally rare coastal dune lakes, their history, surrounding ecosystems, and local protections. Walk the nature trail through coastal habitats including maritime hammocks, coastal scrub, salt marsh wetlands, and coastal forest. A tour is available October 19th.
The tour is $10.00 (plus tax) and you can register on Eventbrite (see link below). Admission into the park is an additional $5.00 per vehicle, so carpooling is encouraged. We will meet at the beach pavilion (restroom facilities available) at 8:45 am with a lecture and tour start time of 9:00 am sharp. The nature trail is approximately one mile long, through some sandy dunes (can be challenging to walk in), on hard-packed trails, and sometimes soggy forests. Wear appropriate footwear and bring water. Hat, sunscreen, camera, binoculars are optional. Tour is approximately 2 hours. Tour may be cancelled in the event of bad weather.
The Bad Cat Classic will be hosted on August 27, 2022 by the Holmes County by UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County. The Bad Cat Classic is a bream and catfishing tournament with the mission to get youth on the water, spending time with positive adult mentors, while learning about the natural resources in our county. Fishing will take place in the Choctawhatchee River, with the team meetings/headquarters being at the Caryville Boat Landing.
All kids 16 years of age or younger who fish in the tournament will be entered in a drawing for a Florida Lifetime Fishing License. This is sponsored by Holmes County Sherriff John Tate, Sam Bailey- Holmes County Clerk of Courts and First Federal Bank of Bonifay. The lifetime hunting license giveaway is a part of the Conservation for Generations Program that works teach kids about natural resource conservation through recreationally actives and gifts lifetime hunting/fishing licenses in memory of Randy Adams. To learn how you can contribute to this effort reach out to Kalyn Waters at 850-547-1108.
This years tournament will add a bream fishing tournament that will start on Saturday morning. Following will be the overnight catfishing tournament.
All the details for the tournament details and rules go to: Bad Cat Classic
This event is a part of a program that offers a series of outdoor recreation events with the dual purpose of getting youth involved natural resource management and encouraging adults to spend time with youth in the outdoors. Revenue enhancement that is generated from these events is used to purchase lifetime hunting license for youth in the county as a scholarship program that promotes natural resources conversation and involvement.
For information call Kalyn Waters at 850-547-1108 and follow Panhandle Outdoor Connection for details on the Bad Cat Classic and other programs coming up.
We used to find them here. I have heard stories of folks who could fill a 5-gallon bucket with them in about 30 minutes right by Morgan Park. An old shrimper told me that back in the day when shrimping in Santa Rosa Sound they often found scallops along the points. They would drop a grab and collect them for sale. This was when both commercial scallop harvest, and shrimping, were allowed in Santa Rosa Sound. Neither are today. There are numerous tales of large beds of scallops in Big Lagoon and scientific reports of their presence in both locations and in Little Sabine. I myself have found them at Naval Live Oaks, Shoreline Park, Big Sabine, and in Big Lagoon.
Bay scallops need turtle grass to survive. Photo: UF IFAS
But that was a long time ago. The reports suggest the decline began in the 1960s and today it is rare to find one. What happen is hard to say but most believe it began with a decline in water quality. A decrease in salinity and an increase in nutrients from stormwater runoff degraded the environment for both the scallops and the turtle seagrass they depend on. Overharvesting certainly played a role.
But they are not all gone. There is still turtle grass in our system and occasionally reports of scallops. They are trying to hang on. There have also been attempts to improve water quality by modifying how stormwater is discharged into our bay, though there is much more to do there. Each year Florida Sea Grant Agents at our local county extension offices provide volunteers an opportunity to survey our bay for both species. We have a program called “Eyes on Seagrass” where volunteers monitor sites with seagrass once a month from April through October. We partner with Dr. Jane Caffrey from the University of West Florida to assess this. We also hold our annual “Pensacola Bay Scallop Search” each July.
In the Scallop Search volunteers will snorkel four different 50-meter transects lines either in Santa Rosa Sound or Big Lagoon searching for scallops. These surveys are conducted at the end of July. There are 11 survey grids in Big Lagoon and 55 in Santa Rosa Sound extending from Gulf Breeze to Navarre. To volunteer you will need a team of at least three people and your own snorkel gear. Some locations do require a boat to access. If you are interested in searching along the north shore of Santa Rosa Sound contact Chris Verlinde at firstname.lastname@example.org (850-623-3868). If you are interested in searching along the south shore of Santa Rosa Sound, or Big Lagoon, contact Rick O’Connor at email@example.com (850-475-5230).
Volunteers conducting the great scallop search. Photo: Molly O’Connor
Reminder, harvesting scallops in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties is still illegal. Please give them a chance to recover.
The Florida panhandle has one of rich biodiversity. This goes for the variety of turtles found here as well. Many paddlers and hikers to our waterways see these turtles but have trouble identifying which they are looking. In response to request by outdoor adventures wanting to learn more, UF IFAS Extension will be offering a one day workshop on field identification of panhandle riverine turtles.
The workshop will be held this Monday – May 16, 2022 – in Apalachicola FL. Participants will attend a classroom session where the biogeography of our turtles will be discussed and visual identification will be practiced. We will then take a boat ride up the Apalachicola River and practice in the field.
The northwest Florida area has been identified as having the highest concentration of invasive lionfish in the world. Lionfish pose a significant threat to our native wildlife and habitat with spearfishing the primary means of control. Lionfish tournaments are one way to increase harvest of these invaders and help keep populations down. Not only that, but lionfish are a delicious tasting fish and tournaments help supply the local seafood markets with this unique offering.
Since 2019, Destin, Florida has been the site of the Emerald Coast Open (ECO), the largest lionfish tournament in the world. While the tournament was canceled in 2020, due to the pandemic, the 2021 tournament and the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival returned to the Destin Harbor and led to the removal of over 10,000 invasive lionfish.
This weekend, May 14 and 15, 2022, the tournament and festival will be in back in full force at HarborWalk Village in Destin Harbor. A record number of teams will be on the water competing for cash prizes and other loot. Florida Sea Grant will be on hand to support the two-day festival that will include lionfish tasting and fillet demonstrations, conservation and art booths, interactive kids zone, shopping, and lionfish viewing! Bring your family and friends out to support this unique event and do your part to help fight invasive lionfish.
For more information on the tournament, visit EmeraldCoastOpen.com or Facebook.com/EmeraldCoastOpen.
For information about Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, visit FWCReefRangers.com
Old Live Oak Picture from National Wildlife Foundation
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is Arbor Day. Florida recognizes the event on the third Friday in January, but planting any time before spring will establish a tree quickly.
Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed on April 10, 1872 in the state of Nebraska. Today, every state and many countries join in the recognition of trees impact on people and the environment.
Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful. A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.
The idea for Arbor Day in the U.S. began with Julius Sterling Morton. In 1854 he moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton was a journalist and nature lover who noticed that there were virtually no trees in Nebraska. He wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and encouraged everyone to plant trees. Morton emphasized that trees were needed to act as windbreaks, to stabilize the soil, to provide shade, as well as fuel and building materials for the early pioneers to prosper in the developing state.
In 1872, The State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” On April 10, 1872 one million trees were planted in Nebraska in honor of the first Arbor Day. Shortly after the 1872 observance, several other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. By 1920, 45 states and territories celebrated Arbor Day. Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.
Today, all 50 states in the U.S. have official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the correct climatological conditions for planting trees. For Florida, the ideal tree planting time is January, so Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday of the month. Similar events are observed throughout the world. In Israel it is the Tu B Shevat (New Year for Trees). Germany has Tag des Baumes. Japan and Korea celebrate an entire week in April. Even Iceland, one of the most treeless countries in the world observes Student’s Afforestation Day.
The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and someday provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.
“It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the nation’s need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.”