Exploring the rare coastal dune lakes of Walton County

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 7:59 PM CST
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“I’m always happy when I’m out here,” said Walton County resident Peter Hansen.

They exist in only four places around the world.

“A nice relaxing feeling that just kind of draws you in,” Hansen adds.

But in South Walton, these particular coastal dune lakes are set apart from the rest.

“It’s a combination of the geology, the soil we have here, along with the freshwater sources, and the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Alison McDowell, executive director of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance.

McDowell has focused on coastal dune lakes since 2007.

She said the 15 lakes are unique because of how close they are to the Gulf.

“Periodically they’ll fill up and break through the sand dunes, into the Gulf of Mexico, and exchange saltwater with the Gulf of Mexico, which creates a brackish water system,” said McDowell.

Coastal dune lakes are defined as bodies of water found within two miles of the coast.

The areas around the lakes are full of a variety of plants and animals.

“If there’s a natural disaster or something and you only have one or very few species there, then they can get wiped out and suffer from that. Now, if you have a lot of different species then a place tends to be more resilient and more of a healthy ecosystem,” said McDowell.

Biodiversity is why many are taking steps to make sure they can be enjoyed for generations.

“The coastal dune lakes are really susceptible to, of course, storms and hurricanes especially,” said McDowell.

People who live by the lakes, like peter Hansen, have to follow special building guidelines outlined by Walton County.

“It’s not just preservation, but it’s improving on things we’ve done in the past. Coastal dune lakes are just a wonder that we should enjoy forever,” said Hansen.

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