Salt Marshes

Salt marsh next to a boardwalk at sunset
Misty salt marsh at Jamestown Island, Colonial Historical National Park. NPS Photo

Ideal nesting grounds for seabirds and raptors, and the sandy rendezvous for mating horseshoe crabs, salt marshes are sensitive yet resilient ecosystems at the intermediary of land and sea. They get the best, and worst, of both worlds. The plants and animals that thrive here can withstand the deluge of tidewater and the absence of it. But as salt marshes experience the impacts of other forces, biodiversity needs to try to adapt. The U.S. northeast coast has a long history of altering salt marshes. People have extensively ditched marshes to control mosquito populations, farmed native salt hay (Spartina patens) for cattle, and built infrastructure (roads, causeways, bridges, and dikes) that restrict incoming and outgoing tides. As the coastal corridor becomes more urbanized with encroaching settlements, marshlands are getting smaller and more fragmented.

Protecting salt marshes and their vibrant biodiversity means first better understanding them. Here at the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network, we’ve been monitoring three salt marsh vital signs: vegetation, tidal wetland elevation, and nekton. See how and why we do what we do below.

Vital Signs

Last updated: March 25, 2022