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Panama City Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America


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Coastal Strands


Coastal strands are dynamic, diverse areas of enormous ecological significance. Coastal strand habitat includes Gulf beaches, dunes, and maritime forests found on barrier islands, peninsulas and mainland beaches. Among other uses, they:

  • Contain some of the nation’s most productive wildlife habitats;

  • Are important buffer for tropical storms and hurricanes;

  • Provide recreation for millions of people.

With proper stewardship, these areas will continue to meet many differing human demands without having their ecological integrity or biological diversity compromised. Coastal ecosystems provide a home for many diverse animals and plants, including sea turtles, beach mice, piping plovers and sea oats.

Loggerhead sea turtle

Species found on coastal strands

Sea turtles are among the largest living reptiles. Most species have scales and a bony shell, and all species are cold-blooded, breathe air and lay their eggs on land. Six species of sea turtles nest on U.S. beaches or are found in U.S. waters, and all six are designated as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They are: loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle, olive ridley turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, green turtle and leatherback turtle.

Credit: Carolyn Hooper

Beach mice
have small bodies, large ears and eyes, and hair colors that blend with the soil types found in their respective habitats. Beach mice are nocturnal animals and spend most of the daylight hours in burrows.

The habitat for beach mice is listed as a critical habitat because of damage from hurricanes and development to the beach dunes.

Perdido Key beach mouse
Credit: FWS
Piping Plover

The plover is a small shore bird the color of dry sand, and when standing still it blends into the background of the sand where it feeds and nests. Piping plovers build their nests in the northern U.S. but beginning in mid-July, migrate south to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This puts the plover’s habitat in conflict with humans who like the same areas of the beaches for summer recreation. The piping plover is listed as a federally threatened species, and 1,798 miles of coastline, from North Carolina to Texas, are a designated critical habitat for the small bird.

Credit: FWS

Coastal dunes also provide a home to several plants, including the sea oat. Sea oats are tall, picturesque plants that are often associated with Gulf Coast scenery. The tall beach grass, named for its grainlike seeds, forms and maintains dunes by trapping sand. The seed plumes were once a popular item for home decorating but are now protected by law in Florida. Sea oats can be easily destroyed by foot or vehicle traffic, leading to erosion of dunes and entire beaches.


sea oats
Credit: FWS





Last updated: April 17, 2018