There are many aspects of the Coffeen Nature Preserve that make it unique, perhaps the greatest is Lake Fuller.
Coastal dune lakes are quite rare. There exist only 25 in the world, and 15 are located here in Walton County. Why are they so rare? What makes them so different? Other places on earth where dune lakes appear are New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar and on the Pacific Coast of United States.
Lake Fuller rests quietly near the western end of scenic highway 30A within the pristine boundaries of the Coffeen Nature Preserve. Located in the Sandestin area between Tops’l resort and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, the 40-acre lake is fed by rainwater and groundwater seepage and is known as one of the most beautiful of the dune lakes. Lake Fuller maintains its unspoiled environment due to less human traffic and activity than most of the lakes.
What are dune lakes? Thousands of years ago during the Holocene period, as the frozen tundra of the northern mainland began to melt, sea levels rose, leaving much of the peninsular of Florida under water. The Gulf Coast remained above sea level. About 10,000 years ago, due to wind, storms and tides, dunes were formed and sand became trapped at the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Throughout time, the high elevation sand dunes, wind, and storm surges combined to create small barrier islands. About 5000 years ago as the land shifted and water seeped in from the ocean and fresh groundwater tributaries from the north, the coastal dune lakes were born.
The dune lakes are low in nutrient, high in mineral. The water color of tea is due to the tannin from dissolved plant matter. Dune lakes provide much needed flood control in times of high-water levels and are a provide a precious source of fresh water to a variety of plants and animals. As such, they contain multiple food chains and rich biodiversity. In short, dune lakes are a source of shelter, protection and breeding place for many wildlife species.
Water lilies and alligators are home on Lake Fuller, , which is nestled in a forest of pines, oak magnolia, and hickory. The endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse scurries around the sand dunes, gulls, songbirds, dove; owls and myriad migratory birds soar over this lake. And now we have the addition of a heron/egret rookery, a pair of nesting bald eagles, and nesting ospreys.
According to Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) the coastal dune lakes are considered globally imperiled due to rarity and are critically imperiled in the State of Florida because of their extreme rarity. As the 6th most biodiverse spot in the United States, Walton County is not only a popular vacation area; it is home to thousands of native plant and animal species.
This ecosystem is fragile and pollution from run off or groundwater seepage can have a devastating effect on plants and animals. The Coffeen Land Trust supports the guidelines of limited watercraft size and speed, dock construction, and a protective zone of native vegetation that act as filtration, flood control, and support of native wildscape for wildlife.
Sources and further information can be found in the following: RARE COASTAL DUNE LAKES: GINGER JACKSON SINTON COASTAL DUNE LAKES: NIC STOLTZFUS