If you’re planning a trip to Destin, you may want to make sure to pack some snorkeling equipment. While the gulf area around the Emerald Coast isn’t known for many for natural reefs, recent efforts by the South Walton Artificial Reef Association have led to approximately 700 artificial reefs throughout the area, as vibrant and varied as if they were natural. There are four different snorkeling reefs and even an Underwater Museum of Art in which underwater sculptures serve as artificial reefs.

South Walton Artificial Reef Association

The South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) was formed in 2010 as a response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal was to educate people about the importance of natural resources underwater, as well as to help re-cultivate those resources. Since that time, they’ve created a system of 700 artificial reefs along South Walton’s Gulf coastline in hopes of drawing in tourists and stirring up an interest in marine life and preservation. These reefs are, by nature, beach accessible and offer exciting snorkeling opportunities.

Where to Snorkel

There are four snorkel reefs that can be found in the South Walton area near Destin: Cobia Reef off Inlet Beach, Sea Turtle Reef in Grayton Beach State Park, Seahorse Reef off Topsail Hill State Park, and Dolphin Reef in Miramar Beach. From an aerial perspective, you can see the care and creativity that SWARA puts into their artificial reefs. Dolphin Reef, for instance, has the exact shape of a dolphin, and Cobia Reef is shaped like a fish — a cobia, in fact. However, from the water you don’t see the whole shape. What you will see is a wide variety of marine life and fish that make the snorkeling trip worth it. The nearest of these snorkeling reefs to Destin is Dolphin Reef, just twenty minutes away in Miramar Beach.

The Underwater Museum of Art

If your tastes are less athletic and more artistic, you have to see the Underwater Museum of Art in Grayton Beach. A collaboration between the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and SWARA brought forth this museum recently, as a way of building artificial reefs and spreading education about the marine life crisis. The art museum is full of creative sculptures that are genuinely impressive works of art, while also serving as artificial reefs on which fish can feed. You can access the Underwater Museum of Art through a dive site within Grayton Beach State Park, just a 40 minute drive away from Destin. Even if it’s slightly out of the way, it’s worth the trip to see a giant skull exhibit or the mythic kraken made into artificial reefs.

The artificial reefs of the Emerald Coast may have been made with a little help from artists and marine biologists, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating than natural reefs. Want to see them for yourself up close? Start planning your vacation to Destin now, by booking a vacation rental with Forever Vacation Rentals today.

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