Driving over the Marler Bridge in Destin, you can sometimes see hundreds of boats and thousands of people on the submerged land known as Crab Island.
Crab Island, a sandbar just to the north of Destin’s Marler Bridge, has faced some jurisdictional issues as its popularity has grown throughout the years. Once a quiet gathering spot for local boaters, Crab Island has become home to many mobile food vendors, floating restaurants and bars, and inflatable waterparks. Some people began to complain that Crab Island was becoming a bit of an “eyesore” and too “carnival-like”, comparing it to the “Wild West”, and so the City of Destin stepped in to intervene.
The City of Destin tried to establish some rules over the sandbar in 2018, only to be told that they did not have jurisdiction over the submerged island. The immensely popular summertime party spot, despite being just a stone’s throw away from the Destin Harbor, is actually outside of Destin’s city limits.
Who Owns Crab Island?
Crab Island does, however, fall within unincorporated Okaloosa County, making regulating the sandbar the duty of the county. And so that’s where it began…except…
During an Okaloosa County Commissioners’ Meeting, where regulation of Crab Island had become a topic, many were surprised to learn that Crab Island also stands within the boundaries and jurisdiction of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a division of the National Parks Service. A representative from the NPS attended the meeting and laid out the multijurisdictional issues.
Because the submerged land falls under federal AND county jurisdiction, meaning both Okaloosa County and the National Parks Service have ownership of Crab Island, the two agencies have agreed to regulate the sandbar together, with the County deferring to the federal government.
At this time, all vendors must receive approval from the National Parks Service, in the form of a Commercial Use Authorization permit, which they can then take to the County to receive a permit to operate at Crab Island. Fees start at 3% of gross income to the NPs plus a monthly fee starting at $400/month depending on size. There are also other limitations regarding overnight anchoring, alcohol sales, and restroom requirements. You can follow the progression of events here: 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023.
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