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Barrier Island Formation & My Crab Cakes

June 28, 2011

Hurricanes had left Santa Rosa Island alone for many years, but now this slender barrier to the Gulf of Mexico must rebuild. To allow nature to take its course takes many, many, many years. If a little help is accepted from those who love this place, here’s what happens

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You start with sand…below sea level sand.

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Add a barrier fence or two or a hundred. This fence is atop the first set of fences planted in the wake of Hurricane Seasons 2004 & 2005. A long stretch of road to Fort Pickens is still below sea level, flooding every single time it rains trapping day visitors in the park for hours.

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Sea oats are sprigged across open stretches of sand. Their root systems catch the sand, hold it in place & provide a small barrier to blowing sand helping it to build into piles that will eventually become dunes. It is a federal offense to pull, cut or disturb sea oats on U.S. beaches. Another advantage of the sea oats is the food they provide for birds, particularly the Red Wing Blackbird who always sings to me when I visit Battery Payne.

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After a while…sometimes a very long while, grasses appear, other plants & even a few trees. My favorite tree is the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana. The Live Oak can survive the salt water assault of a hurricane which causes pines to shrivel up & die.

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Santa Rosa Island boasts native Pyracantha, native Lantana, Slash Pine, Magnolia virginiana – not to be confused with the giant Magnolia grandiflora so familiar to folks from Mississippi.

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Swales form with fresh water being the result, increasing the variety of flora & fauna, including the Six Lined Race Runner: a little lizard, the Mephitis mephitis which #1 Son thought was a “black raccoon” when he was quite young (skunk!) & the Peromyscus polionotus leucocephalis: the Santa Rosa Beach Mouse found only on this island, nowhere else in all the world. DH spent his sophomore-year Mississippi State University spring break on this island with professors trapping the little mouse & studying it. I told you he was a nerd. :0)

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What takes so very long to develop can be gone in a single storm. How fragile is this place I love.

My Crab Cakes

On vacation when the boys were young we would always take a walk on the beach after dinner. #3 son would collect all the little “sand crabs” he could catch in a pail, then dump them on the feet of #1 & #2 sons just to watch his big brothers scramble as we exited the beach. Since the Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadata) is a beach resident, crab cakes are in order!


  • 1 pound (jumbo preferred) Lump Crabmeat, picked over carefully removing any remaining shells or cartilage. Do not break large lumps of meat apart. Set aside in colander to drain.
  • 3 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped
  • 1 Egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon Yellow Mustard
  • Dash Tabasco Sauce (or more :0)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh Breadcrumbs (I grate a hotdog bun – a good one with no HFCS nor preservatives!)
  • 2 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • Butter, for pan
  • Fresh Lemon Slices, for serving


  1. Whisk together mayo, Worcestershire, Old Bay, parsley, egg, mustard & Tabasco.
  2. Fold mixture into crabmeat by hand along with shallot & celery, being careful not to break lumps of crab meat.
  3. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs & flour; Fold gently to distribute.
  4. Refrigerate 10 minutes.
  5. Form into cakes.
  6. In an iron skillet sauté in butter over medium heat until done, about 3 minutes on each side.
  7. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

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