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5 top Florida beaches

David Lyon for the boston globe

Before he became Dr. Beach (www.drbeach.org), a leading environmental expert on beaches, Stephen Leatherman worked at the University of Massachusetts and did research at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Currently a professor of Earth and Environment at Florida International University, he notes that the Sunshine State has 825 miles of sandy beaches. Here are five of the best:

1

FORT DESOTO PARK, ST. PETERSBURG

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The huge park includes a sandy beach with no rip currents, a long fishing pier, a beach area where dogs are allowed, and great bird-watching for shorebirds and waders. “Plus it has the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve ever seen,” Leatherman adds.

2

SIESTA KEY BEACH, SARASOTA

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This crescent beach is 500-600 feet wide with some of the finest white sand in the world. The powdery sand squeaks when you walk on it. “It’s a sin to walk on the beach with your shoes on,” Leatherman cautions.

3

BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE PARK, KEY BISCAYNE

Big offshore sand bars break up the waves, making it a very safe place for children to swim. The beach covers hundreds of acres, so bring a bicycle to explore different sections. “And go to the Lighthouse Cafe for fresh fish and lobster,” he suggests.

4

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SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI

Leatherman calls it “Manhattan on the beach,” noting that South Beach gets over 5 million visitors annually. It’s a very safe beach with lots of lifeguards and a great place to watch South Americans play beach volleyball with their feet.

5

ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA STATE PARK, PORT ST. JOE

A 10-mile-long barrier beach, where this blue heron (above) has perched, runs along the Gulf of Mexico on a Panhandle peninsula that protects Apalachicola Bay. There are no lifeguards, and Leatherman advises getting out of the water if a storm is brewing as the beach sometimes gets rip currents.

PATRICIA HARRIS AND DAVID LYON

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