Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained by saltwater brought in by the tides. They are marshy because the soil is comprised of deep mud and peat (decomposing plant matter that is often several feet thick). This peat is waterlogged, root-filled, and very spongy with very low oxygen levels.
Rising seas, caused by climate change, are beginning to drown out these marshlands. One new effort to fully protect this valuable natural resource is a recent collaboration, supported by Florida Wildlife Federation, many governmental entities, and the US Department of Defense, to plan on how best to protect one million acres of salt marsh stretching from Northeast Florida to North Carolina. The group is known as the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS).
Occurring worldwide, salt marshes are particularly important to Florida and the Gulf coast, where approximately half of the nation’s salt marshes exist. These areas are essential for healthy fisheries as they provide essential food, refuge and nursery habitat for more than 75 percent of marine species, including shrimp, blue crab and a multitude of finfish, such as redfish and sea trout.
Salt marshes also protect shorelines from erosion by buffering wave action and trapping sediments, as well as mitigating the impacts of hurricanes. They also reduce flooding by slowing and absorbing rainwater and protect water quality by filtering excess nutrients. Importantly, they serve as vital areas to store greenhouse gases.
By acting to mitigate the negative ramifications of climate change, we may yet save these critical habitats to the benefit of fish, wildlife and ourselves.