White Sand Purity at Navarre Beach, Florida

The water at Navarre Beach and all along the Emerald Coast of the Florida panhandle is some of the most beautiful in the world. Some people mistakenly believe that the water color is due to a concentration of blue-green algae, but nothing could be further from the truth. The color is partly due to the very purity and hence crystal clarity of the water that allows such incredible visibility and light penetration. The other factors include the shallowness of the water and the very high reflectivity of the sun off the ivory white sand. Instead of the crystal-clear blue color of the deeper waters, the nearshore waters are characterized by the emerald-green color, making the water sparkle like a gem.

Navarre Beach occupies the greatest strand of white sand on earth – the panhandle beaches of Florida. The sand is nearly pure quartz crystal. While most noncarbonated (noncoral) beaches are composed of 15 to 20 different types of sand, the panhandle beaches are like a bar of Ivory soap – 9944/100% pure.

The remarkable purity of Navarre Beach and the Florida panhandle sand is related to its geologic history. Like most all beaches along the East and Gulf coasts, the panhandle sands came from the wearing down of the Appalachian Mountains, which brought an array of different minerals to the shore. But unlike other coastal areas, the rivers stopped bringing any new sand for tens of thousands of years. During this long period of time, wave action has ground the particles down to size. Quartz, being the most resistant mineral commonly available on the face of the earth, is the only type of sand grain left as the other minerals were ground down to dust. Not being stable on the high energy beach, these fine-grained sediments were transported and deposited offshore. What we find on Navarre Beach and the panhandle beaches today is quartz sand crystal at its terminal size, meaning that all the grains are nearly the same size (well sorted in geologic terms).

The lack of any new sediment delivery to the beaches by rivers for many thousands of years also means that the Florida panhandle coast displays some of the clearest water in the country, rivaling that found in the Florida Keys.

Kenny Wilder
Florida Master Naturalist for Coastal Systems