Salt Marshes Succumb to Sea Level Rise
- For the past 50 years, researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) have monitored the vegetative cover of the Great Sippewissett Marsh in Falmouth, Massachusetts, to examine the effects of increased nitrogen levels on the marsh grass species there.
What are Salt Marshes?
- Salt marshes are salt-tolerant rooted vegetation and present in a low-energy transition zone between submerged and emerged environments, occupying the upper margins of the inter-tidal landscape.
- These plants are able to withstand high salinity and regular submersion due to regular or occasional immersion by the tides.
- They are the major blue carbon ecosystems, with a greater latitudinal extent than mangroves, and are dominated by herbaceous and halophytic shrubs rather than trees.
- Salt marshes provide a unique habitat for a large number of species that cannot survive in other habitats. Therefore, they are an essential element in our ecological structure.
Ecological significance of Salt Marshes
- Protects the coast: Salt marshes are the “ecological guardians of the coast” that maintain healthy fisheries, coastlines and communities.
- Habitat for Aquatic life: They provide shelter, food and nursery grounds for coastal fisheries species including shrimp, crab and many finfish.
- Buffer against erosion: They also protect shorelines from erosion by creating a buffer against wave action and by trapping soils.
- Protection against floods: In flood prone areas, salt marshes reduce the flow of flood waters and absorb rainwater.
- Maintain Water quality: They also help to maintain water quality in coastal bays, sounds and estuaries by filtering runoff and excess nutrients.
- Carbon sinks: Salt marshes and other coastal wetlands also serve as “carbon sinks,” holding carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
What are the Threats to Salt Marshes?
- One of the most significant of these threats is sea level rise.
- Introduction of excess nitrogen, which can alter the balance of plant species
- Construction of seawalls and other structures along the coast, can also prevent salt marshes from migrating landward
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