Local groups are working to make beaches safer and surrounding reefs more accessible.
If you've ever been to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Grayton Beach State Park, Miramar Beach or Inlet Beach, you might have noticed some curious yellow poles sticking out of the dunes.
According to Sarah Shellabarger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Walton County Tourist Development Council — in partnership with the South Walton Artificial Reef Association — installed signs and reference poles to help visitors identify the direction of the artificial reefs and get tidbits on what to expect while visiting them.
In addition to helping snorkelers, or bystanders interested in aquatic information, Shellabarger said the reference poles help reduce boater and reef impacts.
"There had to be a way for people in the water and on land to figure out how to access the reefs and that was the best solution that we had found," said Andy McAlexander, president of SWARA, who added that when the two marker area aligned, the reefs sit directly south about 200 yards off the coast, submerged in 12-24 feet of water.
Seahorse Reef is in the Topsail's waters, Turtle Reef submerged near Grayton Beach State Park, Dolphin Reef at Miramar and Grouper Reef at Inlet Beach.
Along with making for a safer swim, McAlexander said the range finders also have no ecological impact on the environment. He added that in order to provide the most efficient option, SWARA took many different ecological considerations.
"Before, you would have people out there swimming around and not be able to find the reef and become fatigued and lose interest and/or get in some form of trouble, so this provides access to the site with minimal risk of getting lost," he said.