By Jessica Roberts
Maps designate water with the color blue, and most would answer that the oceans are blue. But in truth, pure water is perfectly clear. So, why is the water along 30A so clear and “emerald” compared to other areas in Florida and beyond? The easy answer – we are lucky. But, we already knew that!
The longer answer is that we’re lucky… that a lot of very specific conditions come together and when these characteristics converge – you get some of the most beautiful beaches and waters in the world.
For starters, we have our sugar-white sands. The white sand beaches of 30A are formed from pure white quartz that traveled from mountaintops to the Gulf via the Apalachicola River. As waves washed over the quartz, a fine, flawless sand developed and gave us the beautiful beaches you see today.
When the water is deep enough that the sun isn’t able to reflect off the seafloor, the water appears as a dark navy blue because of the absorption and scattering of certain wavelengths of visible light – similar to the scattering of blue light in the sky. Our shores have shallow waters often resulting in sandbars, so the sun can reflect off the white sea floors and the surrounding microscopic plankton, which creates the gradient effect of clear-to-emerald-to azure-to-navy waters as you progress further out into the Gulf.
However, the main ingredient that creates the emerald green color is chlorophyll from naturally occurring (and totally safe) microscopic plankton.
The clarity of the water and the sunlight on the minuscule algae reflected from the white sandy bottom creates the dazzling emerald shades like our moniker, “Florida’s Emerald Coast” implies.
Our waters stay clear and clean thanks to the protection from the Choctawhatchee Bay. Nearby rivers drain directly into the Bay and it acts as a filter for sediment, brackish waters, and carries any potential river runoff away from our crystalline coast. Occasionally when an offshore storm or heavy rain occurs the Gulf’s clarity and color are affected, but it is temporary – and truly beautiful in its own right too!
And, this is what makes our area such a wonderful sight to behold – in-person or in photos! The clarity is perfect to catch a glimpse of our beautiful wildlife like turtles, dolphins, rays, and even the occasional manatee, to snorkel in and around the artificial reefs and the Underwater Museum of Art, or just float along soaking up the waves and the sun.
Hopefully, now it’s a bit more clear as to why our waters are so pristine and how we truly are so lucky to live along these emerald shores.
JESSICA ROBERTS is a Santa Rosa Beach writer and event producer. When not working or writing, you’ll find her out on the water or traveling somewhere new.