What you’ll see in a salt marsh

by Kristine Bunker (MIT, 2014)


Heading out to the beach this weekend?  We previously put out a list of beaches in Massachusetts with good access to coastal hiking.  Whether you’re heading to one of those beaches or plan on taking a stroll at your own favorite beach, here’s a little primer on what you might see.  There are a number of very important coastal habitats surrounding beaches.  Last week we discussed dunes, here we focus on salt marshes.

Salt marshes are rich coastal environments at the interface of land and salt water, where the tidal cycle continually floods and drains marsh vegetation.  Due to this flood regime, salt marshes are densely populated with halophytic (salt-tolerant) plants.  These plants are essential to the stability of the marsh because their roots trap sediment and prevent erosion.  However the salt tolerances of various wetland plants differ, which creates vegetative zoning within the marsh.  In the lower regions, where the salt water is always present, plants with a high salt-tolerance can be found.  Those with a lower salt-tolerance grow in the upper marsh because they are inundated with saltwater only intermittently.

Salt marshes have very high rates of photosynthesis and are extremely productive habitats which are major players in the aquatic food web and nutrient cycling.  When halophytic vegetation dies back, the organic material decomposes and feeds micro-organisms in the marsh.  These micro-organisms in turn feed the fish and birds of the marsh, which then become prey for higher order fish, birds and mammals.

Keep an eye out for these flora and fauna in and around salt marshes:

Low Marsh vegetation

High Marsh vegetation


This entry was posted in beaches, environment, favorite New England beaches photo contest, habitat, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What you’ll see in a salt marsh

  1. Pingback: Announcing the Winner – Favorite New England Beach Photo Contest | 2Fathom

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