Why is Our Sand So White?

Tim Kramer Photography
By Kristy Gustafson

Whether you’re a relative newcomer or a seasoned local, there’s a good chance your romance with our emerald coast was “love at first beach.”

Between the dazzling white shores and the countless shades of turquoise that sweep along the horizon, who could blame you? It’s a kind of bliss that instantly envelopes you – from the salty air you breathe right down to your sandy toes – earning this coast its reputation for some of the finest beaches in the entire world.

But what makes our sand so blindingly sugar white?

Well, the answer is crystal clear. Literally.

Geology whiz and South Walton local, Jerry Holditch said, “It’s a perfect oval quartzite brought down the Apalachicola River from the Appalachian Mountains at the end of the last ice age.”

Yup. Our sand is quartz crystal, which is also known for its healing and soothing properties.

It has been pulverized and washed down to this particular region over the millennia. Along the way, it gets broken down further by the waves and currents, and it combines with shell and fossil fragments to create countless shades of gorgeous stretching down the coastline.

These crystals not only give our sand its remarkable, snow-white color, but that’s also why it “squeaks” when you walk on it!

And it’s also to thank for the stunning color of our Gulf waters, when intense Florida sunshines reflects off all those countless crystals just under the sea.

“If you look at Texas beaches, they get all the dirt and mud from the Mississippi River, flowing out and heading west,” said Holditch, which prevents sunlight from refracting in the same way as it does here. “It begins to clear up at the Mexican border.”

Against this perfectly sunlit backdrop, it’s no wonder you feel like you’re stepping right into a Florida postcard every time you’re here. All these forces have been at work for millions of years, which means your passionate love affair with South Walton isn’t the first to come along, and it certainly won’t be the last.

So, the next time you’re soaking up all of this natural beauty, sinking your toes into those velvet sands or splashing in the glistening, emerald green water, think about the long incredible journey that was required for all of these special elements to come together.

Don’t be surprised if it makes you feel as small – and as special – as a grain of crystal white sand.

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