Have you ever wondered why the water color in Destin or other parts of the world can dramatically change from one season to the next? How one December the water can be a perfectly clear blue and the next year the water is brown or discolored? Furthermore, what underlying factors contribute to our oceans allowing them to turn such an Emerald Green color?

Here is a list of fun educational facts that contribute to our many different water colors in hopes that it sheds some light (pun intended) on the current condition of our water here in beautiful Destin, Florida.

First, we need to understand water and how sunlight affects it!

In order to fully understand color changes in our oceans, we first need to understand why water typically appears blue in the first place.

Looking down over the Caribbean from an airplane, you would most likely come to the conclusion that the water is indeed “blue” or “turquoise” in color. However, when scooping that exact same water into a glass cup to examine it further, you would find that it isn’t blue but rather clear. What then makes the water appear blue? Water is not inherently blue, we just perceive it to be blue because that is the reflection from the remaining molecules left unabsorbed in the water. Let me further explain. Water molecules absorb colors like green, red, yellow, etc. only leaving short-wavelength blues and violets unabsorbed to reflect back to our eyes. So what our eyes actually perceive is a byproduct of the molecules left unabsorbed in the water, not the “color” of the water itself. Furthermore, here in Destin, Florida we have incredibly fine white quartz sand lining our shores making the perfect backdrop for light to penetrate, further exaggerating whatever molecules, phytoplankton or algae are left in the water, bringing out the dominant color.

How does the water turn Green?

The Gulf of Mexico receives large amounts of fresh, mineral enriched deposits from large river basins such as the Mississippi River basin and even in our own backyard, the Choctawhatchee Bay, which is fed by many natural fresh water springs. The presence of these nutrients then leads to profuse algal growth as it mixes with the ocean water. Light, reflecting off of this algae (phytoplankton) is then further enhanced by the white sand backdrop giving the water the appearance of being “green” in color. Phytoplankton,  a microscopic plant-like organism, also produces chlorophyll which absorbs red and blue light causing the then remaining dominant color, green, to be the most pronounced. Nasa stated in an article, “the more phytoplankton in the water, the greener it is…the less phytoplankton, the bluer it is.”

What makes our water brown?

During the fall and winter months in Destin the leaves and pine needles fall, flowers and additional foliage drop their pedals and storms cause trees and other organic matter to fall to the ground.

Why is this additional or surplus organic matter important to the water color?” You may be asking yourself.

Well it is through a process of decay that these organic materials break down causing our fresh water lakes and ponds to turn brown and even black in color. The excessive rain fall will then cause that decay to wash into our rivers systems, mix in with our bays and coastal waterways (causing brackish water) and eventually find its way out to our ocean following the tides. Much of the brown color you see along the coastline will be a direct byproduct of rainfall and organic runoff. Drive a few miles away from the nearest major inlet and the water will be much clearer.

Red Tide…not so Red? Author Side Note: “It is not uncommon to get Red Tide in Destin but it is usually very faint and does not last very long thanks to the Gulf Current moving West to East pushing it south away from its point of origin in Southern Florida. More often than not, we experience it in Destin after a large storm or hurricane pushes the southern waters northwest towards Destin.”

Wikipedia defines Red tide, known as Karenia brevis, as “a phenomenon caused by algal blooms during which algae becomes so numerous that they discolor coastal waters (hence the name “red tide“).” However, “red” tide does not always appear red at all but rather a reddish brown color usually followed by a strong chemical odor mixed with the smell of decaying flesh. Do not mistake this smell or color, for it is an unmistakable early warning sign. This algae bloom can have detrimental effects on marine wildlife as well as beach goers. Red tide is most recognized for its destructive capabilities to marine life due to its toxicity levels disrupting any known species of marine life to experience equilibrium malfunctions, paralysis and eventually, if left untreated…death. However, what many do not discuss is its impact on beach goers. Once a wave, carrying red tide, breaks open the cell of the Karenia Brevis, the poisionous toxins are released into the air causing respiratory problems to anyone or any creature within its vicinity. Apply a strong coastal breeze and this toxin can affect anyone along the coastline or even inland many miles. While some scientists have stated it’s relatively safe to swim in, most will argue to stay away from it and be observant of the signs. If you experience a headache, trouble breathing, coughing or nausea within a short period of time on the beach or near the beach…its time to get away from the water immediately. Re-hydrate yourself and stay indoors. Furthermore, do not expose any open wounds to red tide. Children under the age of 12 should not be exposed to it, nor anyone whom is affected by any respiratory illness or condition. If you have been exposed, unknowingly, we advise taking a shower and using swimmers ear (if you were in the water) immediately. Drink plenty of fluids and stay out of the sun and of course…the water, for a couple of hours. See your doctor if you experience symptoms lasting more than 24 hours.

Thanks for reading. We hope this exploration into the mysteries of our incredible ocean was educational.

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