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31 Aug 2021
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Things to Know

While many come to the Emerald Coast for the great weather and pristine beaches, there is so much more to see and experience, especially when it comes to nature. There are 5 gorgeous state parks on the Emerald Coast, and they are all waiting to be explored! If you are an animal or plant lover, it’s time to see the other side of the Gulf and dig deeper into the nature surrounding Gulf living. Here’s a quick guide to local nature on the Emerald Coast!

Plant Life on the Emerald Coast

There are various types of plant life and greenery that are native to the area. Below are a few notable plants that you can see on your next trip to the Gulf!

  • Sea Oat: This plant is located in the many sand dunes of the Gulf coast and only one of the few plants that can thrive in them. They have long roots that embed in the sand and help protect the dunes from wind and water erosion. If you see something that looks like wheat on the shoreline, it might just be sea oat!

  • Gulf Bluestem: This local plant is also located in the dunes and along the shorelines. It’s a long, perennial grass that also thrives in a tropical climate and aids in protecting the shoreline from erosion.

  • Beach Elder:  Beach elder, aka seashore elder, is a perennial shrub that you can find on the shorelines. The best part of this low growing plant is the lavender it produces from late summer to early fall!

  • Florida Pine Trees: While most think pine trees thrive in colder areas, which they do, there are also several types that grow on the Emerald Coast! Florida is home to 7 different pines, ranging from the slash pine which features its pines only on the tops of the trees to the sand pine which can grow up to 40 feet tall. See how many types you can spot on one trip!

  • Mangroves: There are more than 70 types of mangroves that exist today and most work well on coastlines because they thrive on high volumes of salt. The Gulf features 3 types of mangroves: red, white, and black. Mangrove roots attach to sand/soil and protect the shoreline from erosion while giving the surrounding scenery that iconic southern look!

The Animals of the Emerald Coast

Just like plants, the Gulf is home to various animals that range from cute and friendly to dangerous. Check out the list below for some common Gulf creatures!

  • Birds: Think about how many birds fly south for the winter, and you can only imagine how many you’ll find on the Gulf. The dunes, lakes, shoreline, and lush state parks of the Emerald Coast provide the perfect backdrop for birdwatchers. Whether you’re a birdwatching novice or can spot a rare species without binoculars, the Gulf is a great place to see a wide variety, especially those who are protected in the area. Here are a few of the most popular birds on the coastline:

    • Terns

    • Gulls

    • Black skimmers

    • Brown pelicans

    • Several types of herons

    • Egrets of all kinds

    • Black-necked stilts

    • Spoonbills

  • Sea Turtles: Sea turtle season is between April and November. During this time, female turtles come out of the sea, lay up to 120 eggs in the sand, and return to the ocean. Once the eggs hatch, the baby sea turtles must make their way into the ocean without any help. With a low survival rate and human interference, sea turtles are on the verge of becoming extinct. Be sure to stay away from these areas to ensure the turtles are not disturbed.

  • Bottlenose Dolphins: From the beach or your balcony, you can see these friendly creatures jumping and splashing around the turquoise waters. It’s said that there are almost 10,000 living in the Gulf alone! On your next trip, snap some photos or book a tour to take a swim with these incredible mammals!

  • Alligators: You don’t necessarily want to find yourself in front of an alligator in the wild, but the Emerald Coast has many. These ancient reptiles were said to exist long before the dinosaurs! They love to float in bodies of water and are quicker than you’d expect on land. While dangerous, with the help of humans, alligators are no longer an endangered species, thriving in the Gulf climate and landscape.

Next time you head to the Emerald Coast to enjoy the sun and the fun of Destin, be sure to take note of all the incredible wildlife blooming and thriving around you. From the Florida pines to the dolphins playing in the turquoise waters, the Gulf plant and animal life is something to be awed and explored!

For more information, take a trip to one of the aquariums, hike one of the many wildlife refuges, or explore one of the state parks in the area to enjoy the plants, animals, and nature of the Emerald Coast!