There are basically four naturally occurring components of a salt marsh: Tidal water, pluff mud, cordgrass and oysters.
Each of these plays a crucial role and each is reliant on the stability of the others for the salt marsh environment to succeed.
The tides push the salty waters into the far reaches of the salt marsh and then suck the water out. This constant filling and flushing of the marshes allows for the dynamic exchange of nutrients to and from the ocean. The salinity of the water in the marsh is nearly the same as the ocean.
The cordgrass helps keep the pluff mud in place. The mud accumulates and supports the root system of the grasses and from it emerges the vast oyster beds.
Should any component be compromised or removed from the system, the salt marsh would be dramatically different.
While we have the most salt marsh in the county, and South Carolina has the most salt marsh of any state, salt marshes can be found throughout the world. They occur wherever there is a flow of salt water between the mainland and outer islands. And salt marshes play an amazingly important role in our world.
I like to say that our salt marsh affects everyone, whether you live in the Lowcountry or not.
Here are just a few examples:
If you enjoy oysters, shrimp and crab… you are affected by our salt marsh. Oysters are a permanent fixture of a salt marsh. In fact, the health of the specific system in which the oysters grow determines the quality and availability for consumption. A pristine habitat is required. Shrimp and Blue Crab come and go from the salt marsh depending on the stage of their development. Fry shrimp depend on the food and protection provided by the narrow and shallow creeks.
If you enjoy whale-watching or birding, you are affected by our salt marsh.
The dolphin that play our waterways throughout the year are members of the whale family. Birders can observe a wide variety of species, from the resident Brown Pelican and the unusual Wood Stork to the migrant loons and mergansers, just to name a few!
Last, but not least, my favorite example: The incredible Horseshoe Crab!
But I’m out of space. Pick up next month’s issue of Island Events to read about how your life is – or may be – impacted by the very cool Horseshoe Crab.
For now, get outside and enjoy the cool temperatures. The salt marsh is an awesome environment, rich with unique flora and fauna. Since this is a month with “R,” watch for watermen plying the abundant oyster rakes harvesting this Lowcountry winter specialty. If you eat oysters, be sure to ask for the local, hand-picked variety.
By Capt. Patte Ranney, SC Master Naturalist
For over 30 years, Outside Hilton Head has provided personalized adventures for all ages. Outside HH offers kayak, fishing, nature and dolphin tours. We also offer kid’s camps, history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. “The Island’s outdoor outfitter” has an outstanding selection of clothing, gear and accessories. Visit us at the flagship store in the Plaza at Shelter Cove or in Palmetto Bluff. 843-686-6996 or www.outsidehiltonhead.com.