Sands of Florida, Sands of Time

With travel restrictions for safety and work, short-distance vacations and “staycations” might be more common in the coming months. Luckily, living in Florida we have dozens and dozens of beautiful places to visit all before you need to refuel or recharge your vehicle.

Driving to beaches never takes too long peninsular Florida, traffic permitting of course. Anyone who has had a chance to visit different beaches throughout the state of Florida has noticed that the type of sand varies from place to place.  

Where beach re-nourishment is limited, we on the southeast coast have golden brown sands, some places coarse and some places finer. Much of northeast Florida, including Daytona Beach, has orange-ish sand that is renowned for its well-structured strength and can be driven on.

On the west coast, Clearwater Beach is world-famous for its beautiful fine white sand. Around Ft. Meyers, the sand is known for being the best in Florida for building sandcastles.

The diversity of sand types makes me wonder: why are Florida’s sands so different? (Photo to left: Coquina, photo credit: Michael P. Klimetz, Arcadia, Florida.)

In my time at the University of Florida, I remember field-trips for Coastal Geomorphology class where we visited the St. Augustine area on the Atlantic coast as well as Cedar and Seahorse Keys on the Gulf coast to learn about the sands by the sea.

Gulf Coast sands that can be traced back to many rivers including the Rio Grande, Mississippi, Apalachicola, and Suwanee to name a few. These long rivers break down larger rocks from mountains over hundreds or thousands of miles so that fine sands and silt is all that remains. 

Photo credit: iStockphoto / felixmizioznikov

For early settlements like St. Augustine, the Spanish were fortunate to have relatively compact sand to build upon. It was made primarily of weathered and eroded seashells laid over a few hundred thousand years sourced from Florida and the Caribbean thanks to the Gulf Stream. Some crushed seashells were compressed enough to form a sedimentary rock called coquina. This is what was primarily used to construct strong colonial forts to protect from French colonial claims from the Carolinas, southward.

Florida’s coquina is found from that area in northeast Florida reaching down to southern Palm Beach and very north Broward Counties, right around Gumbo Limbo. I wonder how Florida’s history would be different if we didn’t have the sands that we do, where we do.

Would Florida as we know it not exist geologically or historically? Maybe colonial claims would not have been maintained and we would be living in La Floride, as the French called it, instead of (La) Florida? Maybe the Spanish wouldn’t have been able to claim Florida from Timucuan, Calusa, Glades, and other native peoples.

Wandering around the beauty of Florida’s history and beaches can beckon interesting questions like these. It’s fun to wonder about how and why we have such stunning and diverse beach sands and the impacts it has on our story.

Until I can talk to a geologist and historian, I’ll say to you good-bye, adiós, au revoir, or the Timucuan hite just to be safe.

Category Tag(s): Nature Blog