- Coastal dune lakes are shallow, freshwater lakes located within two miles of a coastline and found only in small numbers in New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar, the United States.
- The film Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast, produced by Florida resident and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus, reveals what makes this complex marine environment so special, as well as, some of the conservation challenges the Florida panhandle is currently facing.
- The documentary will have its World Premiere at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City on Sunday, October 25th.
Coastal dune lakes are shallow, freshwater lakes located within two miles of a coastline and found only in small numbers in New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar, the United States. A special marine ecosystem forms as a result of the intermittent exchange of freshwater and saltwater that occurs when one of the lakes overflows. The film Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast, produced by Florida resident and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus, and his son, writer and photographer Nic Stoltzfus, reveals what makes this complex marine environment so special, as well as, some of the conservation challenges the Florida panhandle is currently facing.
In Florida, the fifteen brackish lakes dotting a 26-mile stretch along the state’s panhandle are often referred to by locals as “jewels” due to the diverse mix of plants and animals which thrive in this unique ecosystem. In particular, several endangered species rely on the lakes for nourishment, including the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, snowy plover, and loggerhead and green sea turtle. Florida’s coastal dune lakes are also seen as places of refuge and relaxation by local residents whom enjoy partaking in low-impact activities such as stand up paddle boarding, hiking, and biking. With the expansion of human development across the region, it’s now more important than ever for everyone to work together to protect this remarkable coastal habitat.
The documentary Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast will have its World Premiere at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City on Sunday, October 25th.
ELAM STOLTZFUS AND NIC STOLTZFUS
Marie Frei for Mongabay: What is your background?
Elam: I was born Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I have always loved nature and the outdoors. I grew up working outside and it was here that I developed my appreciation for art and nature. I found my way to Florida in the early ‘80s after I met my wife, a native Floridian, and became captivated by Florida’s natural beauty.
Nic: I was born here in Florida and grew up helping my father, Elam, with his documentaries since I was a kid. I left for college, taught English in Japan, and returned two years ago to work for my father’s production company as the primary writer/researcher.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: What sparked your initial interest in Florida’s landscapes and wildlife?
Elam: Definitely the beauty and the wildness of Florida. One of my favorite times to be outside is in the morning, especially on waterways with the morning fog rolling in. One particular moment I recall was when I was out on a tree island in the Everglades, and misty shower greeted the morning, followed by the sun breaking through the rainy clouds with a rainbow appearing over the sawgrass horizon. In a moment’s notice, I quickly set up the camera. The composition was right there, five feet from the tent. Times like this are when I feel like I am immersed in the natural world.
Nic: As a native Floridian, particularly one growing up in a small one red light town, there were plenty of opportunities to interact with nature. I didn’t fully recognize the beauty of natural Florida until after I left and wasn’t surrounded by it.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: Can you tell me briefly where Florida’s coastal dune lakes are located and what makes them so unique?
Florida’s coastal dune lakes are located in northwest Florida, mostly found in a small 26-mile strip of land along Florida’s Emerald Coast between Panama City and Destin.
What makes them unique as compared to other coastal dune lakes found around the world is that they frequently bust open into the Gulf of Mexico via a stream called an outfall, allowing saltwater fish and animals to intermingle with freshwater fish and animals within the lakes. It’s really a dynamic system. With all the rest rain we have had, all the outfalls have busted open and it is really cool to see these streams flowing into the Gulf of Mexico—it’s like someone pouring cream into coffee, watching all those swirling patterns.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: What are some of the threats Florida’s coastal dune lakes face?
The primary threat to Florida’s coastal dune lakes, as in most coastal ecosystems, is human interference. People have built houses along the outfalls, there is runoff from gulf courses located nearby the lakes, and people want to build bigger homes along the lakes.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: How important is community involvement in the conservation of Florida’s coastal dune lakes?
The community involvement in the conservation of Florida’s coastal dune lakes is incredibly important. People at the grassroots level who are going to talk to county commissioners, educate the public, and interact with local businesses and homeowners are key in protecting the lakes. We include the story in the film about how a group of citizens went to the state capitol in Tallahassee and worked with the governor and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to buy a large percentage of the land surrounding the coastal dune lakes. It really is an inspiring story and, because of their hard work and effort, the landscape surrounding many of the dune lakes is natural.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: How receptive were local community members when they heard about your film?
Community members and partners were very receptive when they heard about our film. I think what really excited locals was that they the film gave a holistic picture of the dune lakes—and no one had really connected the dots before. We went from endangered species such as the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, to complications from increased population, to discussing effects of the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Having that comprehensive story really gave people a deeper appreciation of the film.
As a sidenote, many local businesses have found locations to host screenings in the area and the Tourist Development Council recently bought over 10,000 copies to place in their rental units to show to visitors who come to the area. This is a success for us from the standpoint of education.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: Did you experience any challenges while filming?
Nic: For the most part, filming this documentary went quite smoothly. Since it is a nature documentary, the struggles usually came in the form of bad weather. January of 2014 was cold enough that many of the coastal roads were icy and had to be shut down and I couldn’t drive down to the lakes for a few days or so. We were thankful that we didn’t get any bad hurricanes!
Marie Frei for Mongabay: What impact do you hope this film will have?
Nic: The impact we hope this film will have is on how both locals and visitors perceive the coastal dune lakes. Elam and I worked really hard to show viewers that there are many rare and endangered species that live in and around the lakes and that they need to be protected if these species are going to survive. A key theme of this project is the idea that citizens have the power to make a difference—and we tell that story within the film, about how a handful of citizens worked to purchase much of the land around the lakes. Their story should inspire citizens today who care about the lakes that, yes, they do have the power and ability to work with local and state agencies to keep these natural areas protected.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: Why do you think Wildlife Conservation Film Festival is an important organization for preserving global biodiversity?
It goes along the same lines as to why we make films—WCFF is able to bring wildlife and natural areas to the viewer and get them to care about something that they may never see in their lifetime. Just because you never visit the Amazon rainforest or the coastal dune lakes doesn’t mean that you don’t want to see it protected and cared for—the films at the festival show the beauty, and also fragility, of our planet’s natural world and educate and inform viewers about our wide, wide world.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: Why do you think people should attend the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival and the WCFF Biodiversity Conference?
Nic: First off, it will be a lot of fun! We are looking forward to attending to meet a diverse group of filmmakers from all of the world—it’s sort of like a UN meeting for documentary filmmakers. The festival coordinators have worked really hard to put together a diverse group of panels and films from all over the world, with the hope of encouraging people to look at environmental issues from a diversity of perspectives.
In Series 13, when our film is being played, one of the films is about Zakouma National Park in Chad. I don’t know anything about it, but I am looking forward to learning more about wildlife found there.
To brush shoulders and mingle with people from all over the world who are working to document environmental issues in their home country is exciting and gives us, and festival attendees, the opportunity to bring back ideas as to how they can address environmental issues in their local environment.
Marie Frei for Mongabay: What’s next on your agenda? Do you have any upcoming films?
Both: The coastal dune lakes is our sixth feature length film on natural Florida and, for our seventh, we plan on staying in Florida but with a bit of a twist. Our next film will be a historical/cultural film on the 2016 Great Florida Cattle Drive. If you are unfamiliar with this event, every 10 years there is a cattle drive in central Florida where cattlemen and cattlewomen dress up in 19th century period dress and herd around 500 head of Florida cracker cattle across central Florida. These cattle are originally from the Andalusian region of Spain, so we will be covering Florida’s Spanish heritage, as well as other aspects that have influenced the Florida cattle industry.
Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast is just one of the 85 films premiering at the 5th Annual Wildlife Conservation Film Festival at New York City’s Anthology Film Archives from October 19th-22nd, 24th & 25th, 2015. In addition to promoting programs and projects that contribute to the protection of biodiversity and sustainability around the world, the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival provides several unique opportunities for conservation experts and filmmakers to interact directly. For more information on the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival including tickets, please visit WFCC.org.