Clearwater’s beaches have earned the reputation as some of the most beautiful in the world, and rightfully so: our local sunsets over turquoise Gulf waters lapping sugar-white sand inspire millions of travelers from around the world to come and marvel at our little corner of paradise.
But some of our visitors, and even residents, do not understand the fragile nature of our dune system and its importance in protecting our beaches from destruction. Those gently rolling sand dunes dotted with cabbage palms and fields of sea oats waving in the breeze are picturesque, but they are much more than ornamental. Importantly, they provide vital protection to our beach ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabit it.
Sea oats are native grasses that grow naturally on beach dunes. Their extensive root system holds beach dunes together and prevents the sand and soil from blowing away during storms. These dunes, in turn, protect the coastline from storm surge and erosion. They also provide essential habitat to a variety of wildlife, including nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.
But sea oats are also very fragile and very expensive to replace: according to the University of Florida Sea Grant program, the 22,000 sea oats needed to replenish one mile of rebuilt beach cost more than $40,000. Because of their importance, wild sea oats are a protected plant species in Florida.
Residents and visitors alike need to do our part to protect sea oats, our dunes and beaches. Here are a few things to keep in mind on your next visit to the beach:
- Do not pick sea oats, not even the seeds. Picking sea oats is illegal in Florida and will result in a fine.
- Do not walk or drive a vehicle of any sort over dunes or sea oats. Sea oats are easily destroyed and sand dunes damaged by any kind of traffic, even foot traffic.
- If you walk your dog on northern Clearwater Beach, observe leash laws and never let your dog run loose—especially over sand dunes. Dogs can destroy sea oats and sand dunes as well as disturb nesting shorebirds.
To learn more about sea oats and what the University of Florida is doing to protect them and our coastal areas, visit the Sea Grant Program website. To learn more about Florida environmental statutes and what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is doing to protect our coastal resources, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/cmp/.