When visitors come down to the Emerald Coast for the first time to stay with us at Ocean Reef Resorts, it’s all about the beach. That’s understandable since the bright shimmering crystalline white shores are a unique true treasure beside the emerald toned waters of the gulf. However local residents and seasoned visitors will tell you it’s really all about the vast expanse of jeweled water all around us! After all, this precious peninsula resembles am offshore island miles away from the mainland. Destin itself was founded almost 175 years ago by fishermen who discovered the cornucopia of abundance available from the glorious gulf and beautiful bay. Today it harbors the biggest private charter fishing fleet in Florida and one of the largest in the nation. Fishing, boating, and water recreation sports abound here.
Our cherished shores are a natural treasure that must be preserved for future generations. Fortunately, we have an organization dedicated to helping the community become more aware of our unique blessing of nature along the Emerald Coast by enhancing a personal connection with the environment. South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) has created an artificial reef systems close offshore in South Walton on both the gulf and eastern part of Choctawhatchee Bay.
These new reefs preserve and protect these pristine waters by continuing to provide a rich, sustainable habitat that helps marine life thrive. They started to build these living reefs back the summer of 2015. These reefs are constructed on shore using thick concrete bases that support a stacked pedestal of large round platter-like levels that are embedded with medium sized rocks and pieces of limestone. They are supported by posts made from durable steel fiberglass wrapped posts and lined up with trays placed above each other to heights ranging from eight to as high as 15 feet tall depending upon the depth of the water all along the beaches of South Walton. These reefs are made with openings that are specifically designed to provide shelter for smaller fish, promote healthy marine growth and support a sustainable food source for a wide range of fish. Once they were constructed on land, these structures were pieced together on big boats and barges with equipment to drive initial pilings into the sand as base supports.
All of these reefs are located explicitly at sixteen evenly distributed sites along the coast near public beach access points that have parking and restroom facilities. All these SWARA reef sites are intended to be reachable from shore, and four of them are close enough to allow adventurers to go snorkeling. These snorkeling reefs are deliberately and creatively placed with images in homage to local marine life. They may be seen from above, and there are now four of them including “Dolphin Reef,” “Turtle Reef,” “Seahorse Reef” and “Grouper Reef.” The living reefs for snorkeling are approximately 250 to 350 yards, so you have to get there by kayak, paddleboard or some other safe flotation device as safety is of utmost concern. They range in depths from 12 up to 20 feet deep. Diver Dive Flags or vivid buoys must be used to be seen by boats for your own safety and are required by Florida state law.
Going from west to east these Snorkel Reefs are as follows:
Dolphin Reef is in Miramar Beach near the colorful Pompano Joe’s restaurant and beach bar off Scenic Gulf Drive about 229 yards from shore with a twelve to 20-foot depth depending upon the tide level.
Seahorse Reef is at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park off Scenic 30A next to Dune Allen. It is 239 yards offshore with depths of 13 to 18 feet.
Turtle Reef is at Grayton Beach State Park off Scenic 30A, which incidentally was recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of the most beautiful beaches in America after a national study. It is 216 yards offshore with depths of twelve to nineteen feet.
Grouper Reef is at Inlet Beach at the far eastern end of Scenic 30A near Rosemary Beach and 323 yards from shore with depths from twelve to twenty-one feet deep.
There are twelve Fishing and Diving Reefs that are between one to four nautical miles offshore. They are found out in the gulf near these locations and at the following depths:
Miramar Beach with a depth of 62’; Miramar-Frangista 68’to 75’; Topsail Bluff 61’; Fish Haven #1 at Topsail Hill 75’; Fish Haven #2 at Dune Allen 89’; Blue Mountain at Blue Mountain Beach 55’; Underwater Museum of Art at Grayton Beach 75’; Santa Clara at Seagrove Beach 55’; Fort Panic at Santa Rosa Beach 61’; Skunk Gulley at Santa Rosa Beach 59’; Deer Lake at Seacrest Beach 57’ and Inlet Beach near Rosemary Beach 58’. The Fish and Dive Reefs that are closest to shore less than one nautical mile away are at Fish Haven #1 & #2 as well as Miramar-Frangista. Aerial views with map locations may be found for each individual site along with specific global map degrees at swarareefs.org
Those who plan to dive these living reefs should be trained and certified as a SCUBA diver. As these reefs are just now becoming established they are not ready for general fishing yet unless you are using spearfish equipment. We ask that you enjoy the magical marine life, take underwater photos and leave only bubbles! This will allow these reefs to flourish with fish and preserve this treasured piece of paradise for many generations to come.
Ocean Reef Resorts happens to have many wonderful South Walton vacation rental properties near many of these locations in Miramar Beach, Sandestin, Dune Allen, Santa Rosa Beach, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Seagrove Beach, Seacrest Beach and Inlet Beach. Enjoy the glittering, glowing jewel-toned “water” during your next stay with us!