Tropical storms and hurricanes along the Florida Panhandle have severely damaged many parts of the coastal dune ecosystem. Restoring vegetation on coastal dunes is important because vegetation helps stabilize dunes and provides essential habitat and food for many species of wildlife on the island including endangered species. Many plant species removed by storm events are not readily available for dune restoration projects and as a result are not reintroduced during restoration projects. This can result in a reduction of the biodiversity of vegetation on the restored dunes. Through a coordinated effort with Gulf Islands National Seashore and Florida State Parks, we identify key species that need to be produced and areas in need of restoration. Plant material is collected from coastal areas in the form of seeds, cuttings or divisions and brought to the DEP Nursery where they are propagated and grown to a size suitable for restoration. These plants are then used in restoration projects. This project is made possible through a generous grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Gulf of Mexico Foundation.
Our restoration efforts have focused in several areas in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties in the Florida Panhandle. Specifically, restoration projects have occurred at Perdido Key, Santa Rosa Island and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Plants collected from these areas are kept segregated at the DEP nursery, which allows us to return plants collected from one area back to the same area in an effort to maintain the genetic integrity of restoration sites. Plant material is collected from local beaches and then propagated by seed germination, rooting cuttings and plant divisions. Propagation of material collected from the restoration site allows us to multiply our plant numbers and do restoration plantings with plants collected from the restoration area even when collection material is limited. This is especially important in the case of our coastal dune systems where recent hurricanes have limited the amount of plant material present.
Whenever possible, people should use walkovers when crossing a dune field. Foot traffic in dunes tramples vegetation and causes erosion over time. This effect, coupled with a strong tidal surge from tropical storms, can result in the creation of blowouts in the dune system. Rushing water washes away sand along the weakened trail areas created by foot traffic, thus eventually creating blowouts which ultimately compromise the protective structure of the dune system. As a result, storm surges are allowed to move past the dune field and into once protected areas including neighborhoods, roadways and wildlife habitat. Numerous blowouts can be found at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, which suffered several blowouts when Hurricane Ivan barreled ashore in September 2004.
Local Restoration Areas
Perdido Key State Park
Plantings in Perdido Key State Park have been concentrated on increasing species richness in restoration areas. Key species that are sources of food and cover for wildlife are being planted to supplement the large-scale sea oat planting done in 2006.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Boy Scouts have planted several species of plants near the entrance of Fort Pickens Road in an effort to stabilize the shifting sands and start dune formation. Plants also have been supplied to the University of Florida's West Florida Research and Education Center for use in dune restoration studies looking at sand accumulation and survival rates of different planting methods and season of planting.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
The restoration at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park consists of restoring the eroded path that leads to the top of Topsail Hill, one of the tallest dunes systems in the Panhandle. Once the dune is restored, visitors will be able to use the new observation boardwalk to view one of the most incredible overlooks on the Gulf Coast without causing damage to the ancient dune system.
April 30, 2020 - 4:31pm
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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.