By: Frederique Beroset, Dune Doctors

Florida’s communities along the Gulf Coast love their sugary white beaches that rank among the top in the world. 

Tourists love the beaches, too, with more than 40 million tourists visiting the state every year. 

While Florida residents welcome the tourists who travel here throughout the year, they also want to preserve and protect the unique beauty of its coastline. After all, about 14 million or roughly 70 percent of the state’s population lives within 10 miles of the coast.  

Everyone should be good stewards of this one-of-a-kind environment. Beyond their natural beauty, the beach, dunes, and wetlands along the coastline provide the first line of defense from storms, especially during the long hurricane season from June 1 to Nov. 30 for homeowners and businesses. This area is still bouncing back from Hurricane Ivan that slammed into the Gulf Coast, on Sept. 16, 2004.  

A storm has the momentum to relocate massive quantities of sand in a very short period of time. After a storm, over many seasons, the sand will travel back and forth, East, West, North, and South. It can be stopped with sand fences and trapped by plants. Sand fence placement and coastal vegetation installation are precisely engineered in specific areas. Both beach renourishment and the building of dunes have helped the once flattened beaches to recover. It takes a long time to rebuild the dunes and a very short time to make significant damage. 

To help ensure the fragile nature of the beach can be enjoyed for generations to come there are a few simple rules residents and visitors alike can follow:  

  1. Use dune walkovers and designated beach access points to cross over the dunes. Native dune vegetation can withstand harsh beach conditions but it cannot withstand being trampled by footsteps, pets, or vehicles. Once a footpath is regularly used it lowers the crest of the dune. This created trough becomes a likely place for a blowout during a storm. 
  2. When you decide to hit the beach leave only your footprints behind. Left on the beach garbage negatively impacts the beach ecosystem and endangers wildlife. Beach mice, coach-whip snakes, ghost crabs, nesting sea turtles, least terns, piping and snowy plovers, and monarch butterflies to name a few of the dunes’ inhabitants depend on you to keep them safe. 
  3. Sea oats collect wind-blown sand. The extensive root system of this critical plant and other native vegetation creates a deep web that helps hold sand dunes together. Picking sea oats is illegal in Florida and will result in a fine. Do not pick sea oats, not even their seeds. 
  4. Some areas are occasionally marked. When there are signs that show that a specific area is protected, may it be for bird nesting, a turtle has laid her eggs, or a protective planting has been implemented, please be watchful and stay out of that designated area.

So enjoy yourself at the beach! And help keep it pristine so others who follow you can enjoy it, too! 

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