Cold front, low tides lower water levels at famous party spot

DESTIN — Crab Island is looking a little bare this week, and not just because of the lack of boaters, floating playgrounds and pontoon tiki bars.

The large underwater sand bar just north of the Marler Bridge, a massive party destination for boaters, has begun peeking above the water in some spots to create patches of an actual island.

Capt. Peter Wright, owner of The Ships Chandler in Destin, spends a lot of time fishing in Choctawhatchee Bay. He says he has seen this phenomenon before.

“It’s just the time of the year, the waters are naturally low mostly because of the cold front and the hard north wind that blows a lot of water out of the bay,” Wright said. “It’s not really that the tides are more extreme, it’s just the wind blowing the water out and it gets shallower, but Crab Island definitely starts to expose itself this time of the year.”

Wright wasn’t sure how long the low water would stick around, but said he’s seen it stay that way until as late as February, to the delight of local seabirds and pups.

“People will slip out there on a paddleboard or kayak, sometimes with their dog, to go out and get the chance to see something different you don’t normally see,” Wright said. “I don’t remember it being as exposed as it is this year.”

Kathy Marler Blue, executive director of the Destin History and Fishing Museum, also said the sinking water level happens almost every year. The 66-year-old Blue, who was born and raised in Destin, said she could even remember a time when Crab Island was an actual island year-round covered in plants, sand dunes and bird nests.

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“When I was a little kid, probably between the ages of 5 and 10, my dad would boat my cousins and I over to (Crab Island) when it was a substantial island,” she said. “We’d get dive bombed by the little birds and we’d fish and crab and play while Dad fished.”

She said a hurricane in 1965 all but demolished the dunes, and the installation of jetties in 1969 sealed the deal.

“Those jetties increased the velocity of the tide, and that’s what really wore away the rest of the island,” Marler Blue said.

She said nowadays the small patches of sand that are exposed in the winter are all that remains of the “old” Crab Island, and people find interesting ways to take advantage of it.

“It comes in cycles, but one time somebody took an old piano out there and put it on the exposed sand,” Blue said. “That was really odd to see. The area couldn’t have been more than 12 foot by 12 foot … but it’s all just cycles, depending on the weather and the tides.”