Salt Marshes

Salt marshes are coastal wetlands rich in marine life. They are found in the intertidal zone along low-energy coastlines, forming along the margins of estuaries, where freshwater from the land mixes with sea water, and in bays, bayous and sounds. The coastal area known as "Big Bend" has the greatest salt marsh acreage in Florida, extending from Apalachicola Bay to Cedar Key. South of Cedar Key mangroves replace salt marshes as the predominant intertidal plants. On the Atlantic coast, salt marshes occur from Daytona Beach northward. Salt marshes are composed of a variety of plants including rushes, sedges and grasses. Florida's dominant salt marsh species include: black needlerush (Juncus roemenanus), the grayish rush occurring along higher marsh areas; saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), growing in areas that are periodically inundated; smooth cordgrass (Spartina altemiflora), found in the lowest areas that are frequently inundated; and sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), which is actually a freshwater plant that sometimes grows along the upper edges of salt marshes.

People can benefit from natural salt marshes in several ways. Salt marshes provide protected nursery areas for juvenile fishes, shellfish, crabs and shrimp. These animals are savored as seafood delights when they grow larger and are caught by fisherman, thereby providing food and a source of income for people. Numerous commercially important fish species spend the early part of their lives in salt marshes. Salt marshes provide a home for other animals such as birds, small mammals and turtles. Many people visit salt marshes simply to watch birds and enjoy nature's beauty.

The extensive root systems of salt marsh plants enable them to withstand strong winds, waves and flooding from storms, and act as natural buffers against storm damage to upland development. Salt marshes also act as filters. Tidal creeks meander through the marshes transporting valuable nutrients to marsh and estuary inhabitants. Pollutants from upland activities flow through the marsh and may be trapped by marsh vegetation and sediments, reducing the pollutant load entering estuaries. Man benefits from the buffering and filtering capabilities of the marsh by having cleaner water. Clean water is good for the environment and helps maintain healthy populations of the fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters.

Many salt marshes which once occurred in Florida have been lost due to development. People now realize how important these marshes are, both in a natural sense and in an economic sense, and laws have been passed to help protect this valuable resource.

used with permission of Bureau of Submerged Lands & Preserves

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