Florida panhandle tops list of cleanest beaches
By BILL KACZOR Associated Press
Vacationers looking for a pristine beach should head for Walton County in the
Panhandle. It has 16 of 49 sites certified by the Clean Beaches Council as the nation's
cleanest, safest and environmentally healthiest.
Florida dominates the council's "Blue Wave" list with 40 beaches. Only seven
other states have made the list. Walton has more certified beaches than any other Florida
county; Pinellas is next with eight followed by Broward and Brevard at five each.
The number of certified Florida beaches is unchanged from 2002, although the national
total is down by nearly half from 91. A recently released pollution survey by the federal
Environmental Protection Agency also shows beach closures across Florida increased by 30
percent from 2000 to 2001.
"That shines the spotlight on these particular beaches even more," Clean Beaches
spokeswoman Carrie Collins said Monday. "That means those beaches are even
The EPA survey results indicate coastal communities need to invest more in beach
protection, including rainwater runoff control and sewage treatment, Clean Beaches
President Walter McLeod said in a telephone interview from his Fredricksburg, Va., office.
Walton, which includes Seaside, Grayton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach and Seagrove Beach, is a
community with such a commitment, McLeod said.
The Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council has adopted Clean Beaches
standards and has used taxes collected from visitors to hire beach maintenance workers and
a marine biologist. The latter is unique for a local tourism agency, McLeod said.
"That's their prize asset," he said. "You can't build any more of that
Walton is on the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles east of Pensacola. It is known for powdery
sugar-white sand, towering dunes and emerald-green water.
"We live in a community that cares very strongly for its beaches," said Beaches
of South Walton spokeswoman Jane Higdon.
More than 1,000 people last year volunteered to pick up litter from the county's 26 miles
of beaches, Higdon said. Walton also is doing a management study to scientifically and
economically evaluate beach needs and erosion losses, using a satellite tracking system to
help measure ecosystem changes.
Other advantages are that Walton, although undergoing a growth boom, is comparatively
underdeveloped and the state owns 40 percent of its coastline. Three of Walton's Blue Wave
sites are Grayton Beach and Deer Lake state parks and Topsail Hill State Preserve.
Clean Beaches is a nonprofit organization funded about equally from federal, corporate and
foundation grants. It strengthen its criteria this year, and that's one reason why the
Blue Wave list is shorter, Collins said.
Notably missing are beaches in Hawaii and California, which had three and six sites on the
2002 list. The only state outside Florida with more than one beach is Delaware with three.
Certification is voluntary so beaches unlikely to qualify usually do not apply and several
applications came in too late to do onsite inspections for this year's list, McLeod said.
Pensacola Beach made it although it is one of the most dangerous places in the nation for
drowning. It is part of Santa Rosa Island where 21 people have drowned in just over two
years. Only those sections with lifeguards are certified, McLeod said. None of the
drownings have been on guarded beaches.