Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History

Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History

Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History

Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History


Tall green grass. Subtle melodies of songbirds. Sharp whines of muskrats. Rustles of water running through the grasses. And at low tide, a pungent reminder of the treasures hidden beneath the surface.All are vital signs of the great salt marshes' natural resources.

Now championed as critical habitats for plants, animals, and people because of the environmental service and protection they provide, these ecological wonders were once considered unproductive wastelands, home solely to mosquitoes and toxic waste, and mistreated for centuries by the human population. Exploring the fascinating biodiversity of these boggy wetlands, Salt Marshes offers readers a wealth of essential information about a variety of plants, fish, and animals, the importance of these habitats, consequences of human neglect and thoughtless development, and insight into how these wetlands recover.

Judith S. Weis and Carol A. Butler shed ample light on the human impact, including chapters on physical and biological alterations, pollution, and remediation and recovery programs. In addition to a national and global perspective, the authors place special emphasis on coastal wetlands in the Atlantic and Gulf regions, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area, calling attention to their historical and economic legacies.

Written in clear, easy-to-read language, Salt Marshes proves that the battles for preservation and conservation must continue, because threats to salt marshes ebb and flow like the water that runs through them.


Salt marshes have been among my favorite places for many years, both for the experiences of tranquility and peace they provide and as places to study. in addition to being fascinating biologically (as we hope to convey in this book), they are easy to get to and don’t require long trips on ships to reach, like habitats other marine biologists study. They are great places to take students, provided you go during the right part of the tidal cycle. If you go at high tide, you probably wont see much!

Because salt marshes used to be viewed as wastelands, they have been mistreated and abused by people for centuries. in recent decades we’ve learned so much more about their ecology and the free “services” they provide to us. As a result they have been given some protection. We felt there was a need for a book aimed at students and members of the general public who are amateur naturalists, birders, and nature lovers, to provide information about salt marshes and to increase their understanding of these under-appreciated and vital habitats. the first three chapters provide basic information on the ecology of salt marshes and describe the plants and the animals found there, covering the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States. Numerous photographs should help readers to identify species that they may come across while visiting a salt marsh.

The scope of the book goes beyond the physical limits of the marsh proper to describe animals such as fishes that live in the shallow estuarine waters that are next to the marshes and cover them at high tide. the scope also goes beyond strictly “salt” marshes to cover those lower salinity marshes further upstream that have more freshwater input and are officially called “brackish” marshes.

The second part of the book (the “unnatural” history part) deals with ways that humans have altered marshes over the years. We examine physical alterations such as filling and ditching, chemical alteration by environmental pollution, and biological alterations—the introduction of non-indigenous or alien species into native habitats. These three chapters describe how the ecology of the marshes and estuaries has been affected by these changes. in the seventh chapter we cover two different aspects of . . .

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