Meet Your Green Guide - Debbi Clifford

Meet Your Green Guide-Debbi Clifford

By Chester Butler

Recently I took a walk on Bald Point Beach with Green Guide Debbi Clifford.  Debbi Clifford-Florida Green GuideYou may be asking yourself, “Why do I need a guide to walk on the beach?” That question occurred to me, too. After all, I have walked Bald Point Beach many times. But a beach walk with Debbi is different. It is more of an “awakening.” That’s the reason some people refer to her as the “Beach Whisperer”.

“Every trip to the beach is different,” Debbi explains, “And everything on the beach tells a story of a struggle, a change, an ending, and a new beginning.  Sometimes the story involves people.”

She hands me a non-descript piece of debris and says, “That’s a pottery shard. Probably 500 years old. It is a clue to the story of the people who once lived here.”

Debbi points to the Gulf, “It also tells us that in the past this beach was out there somewhere,”

As I walk with Debbi, something on the beach catches my eye. It’s broken shell with a small round hole in it. I show it to Debbi and she tells me that it’s a surf clam. The round hole is the mark of a predator, the moon snail.

Debbi shares the story, “The moon snail smothers the clam with its foot. Then it drills this round hole in the clam shell. This relaxes the muscles that holds together the two halves of the clam’s shell. When the clam starts to gape open, the moon moves in to feed. Kind of a mollusk murder on the sea floor.” Everything on the beach talks to Debbi.

It is fun to spend time with Debbi on the beach. Her style is relaxing and confident. And you leave the beach knowing some of its many secrets.

Florida Green Guides are knowledgeable in their special area of interest. And Debbi’s knowledge of invertebrates and beach ecology is extensive. Her curiosity, like many others, was nudged into action by Jack Rudloe’s books. She recalls that The Erotic Ocean was the first of Rudloe’s classics that she read many years ago. It started her down a road she could not have imagined at the time.

With curiosity as their guide, Debbi and her husband, Ken, left New England with a 12-foot sharpie sailboat in tow. The sharpie was built in their home’s spare bedroom during a bleak Vermont winter. Their destination was south Florida. They never made it.

They camped and sailed their way south along the eastern seaboard. They stopped at Ochlockonee River State Park in 1991. They were eager to visit the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories.

“It was a funky little place back then,” Debbi recalls, “We met Jack and Ann Rudloe. They offered to let us camp in their front yard on Dickerson Bay.” Debbi volunteered at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab for a while. Later, Jack offered her a job. She worked on the specimen collection boat Elops, under the direction of recently retired Captain Doug Gleeson.

“Back then,” she recalls, “Everything was about speed. We were collecting live animals. They needed to arrive at universities and labs in good health. So, we worked the trawls and bucket dredge fast. We sorted the animals on the fly and made a beeline for Panacea. There we packed the animals for shipment. I learned a lot.”  

Over the years Debbi did on the job training in many of the lab’s operations. Today she is the office manager and oversees the gift shop operation for the Lab.

When Debbi graciously invited me into her home for coffee, I discovered she has surrounded herself with field guides, scientific treatises, and specimens. The curiosity that The Erotic Ocean nudged into action years ago still drives Debbi today.

As I closed my interview, I had one more question for Debbi. I asked, “Do you ever feel discouraged due to the many changes you have seen on the beaches of the Forgotten Coast since you first saw them many years ago?”

There was a long pause before she answered. Then she said, “Things change. We change. The beaches are constantly changing. I watch. I listen. I learn. No, I don’t get discouraged. I am the eternal optimist because the story goes on.”

In that moment, I knew. I knew what children and adults learn when they walk the beaches of the Forgotten Coast with Debbi; she really is a Beach Whisperer.

Debbi is a Certified Florida Green Guide, and partner in La Lutra, LLC.  Debbi and her business partner Serge Latour are active community volunteers. In addition, they have been instrumental in protecting and preserving Tate’s Hell State Forest and the creatures that call it home.

You can book a trip with Debbi by email, Better yet, text or call Debbi at 850-661- 2085 or Serge at 850-661-2461. If you want to learn a little more about La Lutra excursions visit

For other Certified Florida Green Guide adventures, visit This vacation, take home memories and pictures from Florida’s wild side!  

Posted by Chester Butler - Wednesday, 08/16/17, 01:07 PM - Category: News