If you read up on the history of our white sandy beaches, the Destin Chamber of commerce has a great summary of our sands as follows:
“The unique sand of the beaches in the Destin area is among the whitest and most homogeneous of the world.
Consisting of small quartz particles, this sand came from a process involving the Appalachian Mountains and the Apalachicola River 20,000 years ago. At the end of the last Ice Age when the world temperatures began warming and the ice caps began melting, large volumes of water were carried by the rivers to the world’s oceans. The Apalachicola River, rising in the Appalachians, carried water to the Gulf of Mexico and continues today.
This water carried the quartz particles from the rock that forms the Appalachian Mountains and deposited them in the Gulf of Mexico, just 125 miles to the east of what is now Destin. As the sea level began to rise, these quartz sands eventually formed a new shoreline. The sands today continually replenish and reach as far west as the Pensacola Pass, their final destination.”
As great of a summary as that is, there is so much more going on and if science is about observation and if it is correct that this happened 20,000 years ago, how is it still being replenished today?
A 1 hour drive North from Destin will take you upon many of our local treasures, the natural cold water springs located in and around Ponce De Leon, Florida. These tranquil springs, which include but are not limited to Ponce de Leon, Morrison, Vortex and Cypress Springs, are marvels to come and visit and explore. In fact, there are over 16 springs that tourists can come and visit within an hour and a half from Destin. With water temperatures ranging from 65-68 degrees, the water is typically too cold to see any alligators and just perfect for swimming on those hot Florida summer days. Notice the picture below of how these springs surround the Chactawhatchee River Basin just outside of Destin and all flow into our basin supplying the gulf with this incredible crystal clear water and….you guessed it, pure white sand.
So, what are springs?
Springs are portals where water in the earth’s aquifers, rises to the surface and escapes into our streams, lakes and coastal waters. There are two general types of springs in Florida, seeps (water-table springs) and karst springs (artesian springs). The springs in Northwest Florida are karst springs. Karst topography is a landscape created by groundwater dissolving into sedimentary rock such as limestone. This creates landforms such as shafts, tunnels, caves, and sinkholes. The Dougherty Karst Plain underlies our area. (https://waltonoutdoors.com/springs/)
The fact that karst springs are predominately in the Northwest of Florida is very critical to my observations and understanding of where our sand is deriving from. A water table spring (Seeps) is simply an over abundance of water, whether due to rain, runoff or other natural causes which cause the water to rise equal to the land surface and flow out as gravity pushes this water to its closest exit point. Karst springs, however, often have a very high discharge rate, because they are often fed by underground drainage from a large catchment basin. Because the springs are usually the terminus of a cave drainage system at the place where a river cave reaches the Earth’s surface, it is often possible to enter the caves from karst springs for exploration. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst_spring)
As aforementioned, these surrounding springs are all Kasrt Spings with incredible cave systems at depths over 300ft. Being that I am an avid scuba diving enthusiast, I have dove these cave systems many times and would like to offer some observations from those dives. Surrounding these cave systems you will notice an abundance of pure white sand and crystal clear water. As this sand is forced out from these cave systems it mixes with local vegetation and discolors the further you get from Destin traveling East or West.
So, are these caves resupplying our coastline?
That would require an incredible amount of pressure to do, correct? Well, in fact these caves are resupplying our coastline; let me explain. Diving down to the absolute furthest depth I was capable (app. 130ft), there were mounds of pure white sand out flowing from channels within the rocks that you could clearly observe in real time the sand flowing out of. Furthermore, and just as an example, Morrison Springs can produce up to 70,000,000 gallons of water per day. The pressure emitted from these cavities is so strong, when diving, you have to quite literally climb your way down the sides of the walls or risk being pushed back up through the entrance which, any dive enthusiast will explain to you the risk of ascending too quickly to the surface. This volume and velocity of water flowing through these underground cavities is removing sediment and debris along the way, crushing it and forcing it out and up to the surface which is then carried down these river systems to our Choctawhatchee river basin. Take a few hours to travel along our coastline and no matter which direction you travel, the sand gets more yellow or mixed with shells and less “fine” the further you travel from these springs. The fine quartz makeup within these cave system clearly were formed long ago but it is my understanding from personal observations that these springs are the “vein” for our coastline to be replenished of this incredible natural resource each year. Our family has traveled all over the world and seen many amazing beaches with incredible picturesque coral reefs and scenery but nowhere in all of our travels have we found sand so fine and soft that it feels as though you are walking through flour.
So come on down and visit our incredible beaches and stay in our amazing homes and see for yourself the natural wonder of our North American Coastline, our white sand. Next time you step on it and it squeaks as you walk softly across its surface, you will have a little better understanding of how it came to be here and how God made this all for our enjoyment.
God Bless and thank you for reading.