South Walton's Snorkel Reefs
South Walton is known for its sugar-white sand and turquoise waters, but thanks to the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), South Walton is also known for its snorkel reefs which dot the coast from Miramar Beach in the west to Inlet Beach in the east. The snorkel reefs are close enough to the shore that they can be reached by kayak or paddleboard, so snorkelers or divers can access them directly from the beach.
These reefs not only provide recreational opportunities, but they will help create diverse habitats for area marine life. There are currently four snorkel reefs deployed in the Gulf of Mexico:
Dolphin Reef: Located in Miramar Beach, this reef sits about 685 feet from the shore near the Miramar Beach Regional Beach Access and is comprised of 79 individual EcoSystem Reefs. The Dolphin Reef was deployed in the summer of 2017.
- Reef Coordinates: N 30 22.5493 W 086 23.30570
Seahorse Reef: Located off of Topsail Hill State Park, this reefs sits about 715 feet from the shore. The Seahorse Reef was installed in the summer of 2017 and is comprised of 78 individual reefs deployed in the shape of a seahorse.
- Reef Coordinates: N 30 21.38050 W 86 16.66660
Sea Turtle Reef: Located off the beach in Grayton Beach State Park, this reef sits about 783 feet from the shore and is comprised of 58 individual reefs deployed in the shape of a turtle. The first of the nearshore snorkeling reefs to be installed, this reef took shape in the summer of 2015.
- Reef Coordinates: N 30 19.33100 W 086 09.48300
Grouper Reef: Located in Inlet Beach, this reef was installed in the summer of 2017 and sits about 970 feet from the shore off the Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access. The Grouper reef is comprised of 94 individual EcoSystems Reefs deployed in the shape of one of the region's most popular sport fish.
- Reef Coordinates: N 30 16.23200 W 86 00.36000
The reefs will also operate as valuable subjects for research. SWARA is carefully documenting the growth of the reefs and planning to launch an educational program in the future.
“We want the reefs to be a living educational resource,” says Andy McAlexander, president of SWARA. “We’ll use them to teach residents, visitors and kids about the variety of natural resources that exist right at their fingertips. Hopefully, these types of efforts will go a long way in preserving South Walton for generations to come.”