A marsh is a wetland where the main vegetation is non-woody plants like grasses and succulents. There are both fresh and salt water marshes. In a salt marsh, salt water floods the area at high tide and creates different zones for a diversity of plants and animals based on the elevation of the land and the height of the water. Because many plants and animals cannot tolerate high levels of salt, the salt water flooding limits what can survive in the marsh.
Because of Georgia’s low coastal elevation and high tidal range, salt marsh habitat covers a large amount of area along the Georgia coast - an estimated one-third of all the salt marshes on the east coast. The one hundred miles of Georgia’s coast has approximately one-half million acres of marshland, each marsh ranging from 4 to 8 miles wide.
Twice a day, the tides along the coast rise and fall 6 to 8 feet, bringing in nutrients, oxygen, water, and even animals, and carrying away wastes. The salt marsh is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and plays an important role in the ecosystem by providing habitat for animals, reducing floods, and filtering the water.
The marsh is a harsh environment for wildlife, and few animals actually live in the marsh. The temperature can change quickly with the shifting tides, and the inconsistent influx of salt water creates and irregular expose to air and salt water. Most wildlife are visitors in search of food or shelter. Many, such as crabs and shrimp, enter the marsh as plankton (microscopic drifters) and leave as adults. The shallow tidal water of the marsh is home to the young of many marine species before they return to the open sea. Other organisms, such as periwinkle snails and oysters, enter to stay. Each has adaptations to help them survive in the changing salt marsh environment.
The salt marsh has three major zones, defined by their vegetation type which is controlled by their elevation and daily water coverage.
Last updated: February 11, 2020