South Walton’s coastal dune lakes create plant and wildlife hotspots.
Periodically open to the Gulf of Mexico, coastal dune lakes allow fresh and saltwater to mix and become brackish.
As a result, both fresh and saltwater species can thrive in and around the lakes.
Unlike the rougher seas just beyond the shoreline, coastal dune lakes support more waterfowl species, like tiny Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots and more. Bald Eagles and Osprey hunt fish in their shallows, while Northern Harrier and Red-shouldered Hawks look for prey in the marsh grasses and meadows that create important habitat. Black needlerush, saltbush, sand cordgrass, sawgrass, swamp rose mallow, marshay cordgrass, and duck potato plants all make up these rare, wet prairies.
The lakes also host a variety of fish species. Largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, eastern mosquitofish, sailfin molly, striped mullet, sheephead minnow, Gulf killifish, bay anchovy, red drum, Gulf flounder, pinfish, gray snapper, pipefish, and juvenile permit all swim within the coastal dune lakes, explains Brandy Foley of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA). CBA and the Mattie Kelly Environmental Institute (MKEI) have partnered to survey the fish species to study the fish populations. What new species might they discover? Only time will tell.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is the perfect example of biodiversity in and around coastal dune lakes. In all, over 180 avian species have been recorded within the park, a testament to both the range of habitats here as well as the presence of Campbell and nearby Morris Coastal Dune Lakes.
Across South Walton, coastal dune lakes are biodiversity hotspots for visitors and locals who wish to explore the flora and fauna of Florida. Because coastal dune lakes are relatively small and shallow, the best way to see wildlife is to hike on the nature trails tracing their borders, paddleboard or kayak on the surface, or take a motorboat running at low speed, binoculars and camera in hand.
ERIKA ZAMBELLO from Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance contributed to this article.