Wild about nature? You've come to the right place.

Artists and sun worshippers aren't the only species drawn to the Emerald Coast. Our breathtaking beaches are popular with wildlife and ecotourists as well. Here on the Emerald Coast, it isn't unusual at all to be joined by a heron as you walk on the beach, to see a pelican out fishing while you’re casting a line in the bay or to come upon bottlenose dolphins at play while you’re out Jet Skiing. Read about our plant life, wildlife and ecotourism opportunities here.

Abundant Wildlife of the Emerald Coast

An abundance of wildlife calls the Emerald Coast home. Learning more about Emerald Coast sea turtles, birds and dolphins will make your trip to the Emerald Coast more fun.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtle season occurs between April and November, when adult female sea turtles come ashore to lay nests. Due to human exploitation and habitat destruction, sea turtles are threatened with extinction. The female turtle usually comes ashore at night to lay her eggs in the sand and head back out to sea. Typical nests will have 80-120 eggs, with only 1 out of 1,000 babies surviving to adulthood. Doing your part to keep the beaches dark will help the mothers and babies find their way back to the sea and help to increase those odds.

Help protect these remarkable animals. Follow a few simple steps during the season: fill in holes and take beach gear off the beach every evening. Never disturb a turtle that is crawling to or from the water or crowd around a nesting turtle. Use no light or only red lights on the beach at night and do not shine lights in a turtle’s eyes or take flash pictures. Shut off balcony lights and close blinds at night. Any of these disturbances can cause a sea turtle adult or hatchling to become disoriented, get hurt, and possibly injured. All sea turtles are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Florida state law. It is illegal to kill or harm sea turtles. It is also illegal to disturb the nest of a sea turtle. Heavy fines and possible imprisonment may result.

Places to see: All the beaches of the Emerald Coast are sea turtle habitats. Turtles that hatch in our region will return as adults to nest. Also, during summer months, you can see sea turtles foraging off the shore; typically these are juvenile turtles. Remember, these are protected animals that are very sensitive. Do not touch, harass or harm in any way a sea turtle or its nest.

Birds

You don’t have to be an ornithologist to admire the birds of the Emerald Coast. The majesty and variety of these creatures draw nature lovers from all over the world. Bird-watchers will get a chance to spy terns, gulls, black skimmers, brown pelicans, several species of shorebirds, great blue and little blue herons, snowy egrets, reddish egrets (in the fall) and occasionally black-necked stilts. Loons, northern gannets and various sea ducks paddle offshore and are clearly visible with a good spotting scope. From May through August, rare least terns and snowy plovers nest in the sand.

Places to see: Bluewater Bay Marina and Swamp, Bayou Plaza Shopping Center and Kiwanis Park, Florida Park, Ft. Walton Beach Landfill, Okaloosa Holding Ponds, Ferry Park, Oak Tree Nature Park, Destin Bridge west side/jetties and Mattie Kelly Park. Bird-Watching Sites -- Warning: Please don't disturb the nests, and keep dogs away.

Dolphins

One of the joys of vacationing on the Emerald Coast is watching the bottlenose dolphins at play. Dolphin-watching cruises are available in the area, and you can swim with dolphins at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Please note that the Marine Mammal Protection Act states that anyone convicted of harming a dolphin may be sentenced to one year in prison and fined up to $100,000. The law also makes it a crime to feed dolphins in the wild.

Places to see: Gulfarium, Dolphin Cruises