Ecotourism in PCB
“The Last Undiscovered Florida Coast”
Northwest Florida is one of the most important places for diverse and rare species in the country. From an environmental standpoint, the Panhandle is like no other part of the state- the assemblage of plants and animals here occurs nowhere else on earth. That is why the Emerald Coast is often referred to as “The Last Undiscovered Florida Coast.” Panama City Beach is a source of natural beauty- a place to relax, experience nature, and restore balance to our lives.
A buffer to protect upland property and natural habitats, and our beach’s first line of defense against storms, sand dunes are also home for many plants and animals that live in a harsh environment of salt spray, shifting and infertile sand, bright sun light, and storms. Some of the animals which depend on sand dunes include burrow dwelling beach mice, coach-whip snakes, ghost crabs, nesting sea turtles, least terns, piping and snowy plovers, ground doves, and migrating monarch butterflies.
These coastal plants build and anchor the sand dunes, so please don’t pick them! The roots and stems of sea oats and other native coastal plants trap wind-blown sand. As the sand piles up around the plants, new roots develop on the recently buried stems while new stems emerge from the sand’s surface. This traps even more sand and the sand dune builds.
Nature in the form of trees and animals is a necessary ingredient for human happiness. There are over 1,200 species of plants native to Bay County. The following are a few of the more common ones you might see in Panama City Beach:
Trees: Live Oak, Southern Magnolia, Sabal Palm
Shrubs: Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Wax Myrtle, Beauty Berry, Wild Azalea, Saw Palmetto, Yaupon Holly
Groundcover: Beach Sunflower, Purple Cone Flower, Blanket Flower, Blazing Star
Vines: Coral Honeysuckle, Carolina Jessamine, Trumpet Vine
Currently protected by State and Federal law as threatened and endangered species, sea turtles are a unique and important part of coastal environments like Panama City Beach. While sea turtles spend the majority of their lives at sea, each year these gentle giants come ashore to lay their eggs on our beaches during the summer months. After laying her eggs, the female retreats to the water never to return and check on the nest. You can help protect sea turtles in a few ways while still having fun. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see one nesting, or a nest hatching!
Ever wonder how our beach stays so clean and powdery white? Panama City Beach’s legendary pure white sand resulted from quartz crystals washing down from the Appalachian Mountains centuries ago. Along their journey, the crystals were bleached, ground, smoothed, and polished until the surf of the Gulf of Mexico deposited these millions of grains of sand on the shoreline.
Some Things to Remember…
1. Never disturb a sea turtle or a marked sea turtle nest. Seeing a sea turtle crawl up the beach is an awesome sight, but please leave her alone. Be as quiet as possible as you observe from afar.
2. Do your part to enjoy the natural dark sky by closing your curtains, turning off unnecessary lights on the outside, and allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark sky.
3. Remove any personal beach chairs and umbrellas, tents, and play equipment from the beach each night. This will keep turtles from being injured or trapped in any unnecessary objects left on the beach.
Ecotourism in PCB
Ecotourism is among the fastest growing travel trends. It connects conservation, communities, and responsible travel to natural areas. Nature-themed activities are on the rise, such as fishing, hiking, biking, nature photography, swimming, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, and bird-watching. Ecotourism conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people.
Canoeing & Kayaking
Whether you brought your canoe or kayak along with you or are looking for a place to rent one during your trip, you’ll find great places all over Panama City Beach. Kayak in the bay or lagoon, or take your canoe to a nearby spring. Take your family to one of the many parks where you can kayak in the surf all day long.
Diving & Snorkeling
The natural, historical, and artificial reefs in the waters off Panama City Beach provide amazing dive sites. The warm Gulf of Mexico waters encourage rapid reef growth, and the wrecks and other underwater sites provide breeding grounds for all types of exotic sea life, from tropical fish to giant Manta Rays. The best times to dive in Panama City Beach are between April and September.
What better way to take in the wonder of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches then to soar just below the clouds over the vibrantly populated beaches of Panama City Beach? Parasailing allows just that, and anyone can do it! The big chutes can hold up to 4 people so that you and your friends or family can share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience together.
Panama City Beach has some of the best riding locations, on both flat-water and waves. There are also a few barrier islands, including Shell Island, that provide some of the most serene, uninhabited riding spots a kiteboarder would ever imagine in the US.
Our beaches offer a great arena for this sport because of the sugar white sands and mostly flat conditions that exist, particularly during summer season. A flat board slides across the sand over shallow water, and at times the riders ride out into the shore break. Some of the best techno skimboarders in the nation come from Panama City Beach.
Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP)
The newest and hottest trend to hit the water, this sport has opened up a whole new frontier. SUPs glide over the emerald waters when it’s flat and are used to ride swells and waves similar to the sport of surfing. It is an awesome way to stay in shape, but not as physically demanding as surfing. These boards are much larger than the typical boards used for surfing, and the rider stands using a paddle to move the board over the water.
Our beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world. Add the element of waves that the Gulf produces and you’ll find some of the best surfing conditions in the world. We have mostly small to moderate sized waves for the novice or inexperienced enthusiast that may want to try the sport.
Points of Interest:
St. Andrews State Park
One-and-a-half miles of pristine beaches lining the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon, St. Andrews State Park offers it all, including two piers, a jetty and boat ramp that provide ample fishing for anglers, nature trails that provide great hiking and bird-watching, and a shuttle to Shell Island where kayaks and snorkel gear are available for rent.
Camp Helen State Park
Camp Helen State Park is bordered on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Powell- one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. Natural areas range from coastal dunes and salt marshes along the Gulf, to freshwater wetlands and sand pine scrub along the lake. Activities include swimming, beachcombing, nature studying, hiking, and both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
Pine Log and Point Washington State Forests
Outdoor enthusiasts have endless opportunities in the area’s two state forests located outside of Bay County. Pine Log State Forest is a popular spot for picnicking, hiking, off-road bicycling, horseback riding, fishing, and hunting. Point Washington State Forest is less developed and is widely used for hunting, off-road biking, and hiking on its 19 miles of trails. It is a favorite location for wildlife and bird-watching.
Econfina Creek Canoe Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. This trail is a beautiful, curving creek with twenty-two miles of narrow, twisting, and swiftly flowing waters. High limestone walls and sand bluffs, lush vegetation, and abundant wildlife characterize this remote creek. The upper section is narrow with tight curves and several fast water chutes. The lower section is spring-fed and slower.
Greenways and Trails
Greenways and Trails is a system which spans the entire island of Panama City Beach with some 25 miles of paved trails. Gayle’s Trails connects to St. Andrews State Park on the east end of the beach, and to the 3,000-acre nature park Pines & Ponds on the west end of the beach. The trail head is located at the corner of Hwy. 79 South and Hwy. 98. Find trails at the Conservation Park, and view all nature, walking and biking trails.