Salt Marsh by Black's Creek

Quincy
MA

Salt Marsh by Black's Creek

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Marsh by Black’s Creek

This marsh, which can be viewed from Quincy Shore Drive and easily accessed from Fenno Street, is a wonderful place for birding and exploring the unique flora and fauna of the marsh habitat.

On the edge of the marsh, one can find salt tolerant plants such as seaside goldenrod, daisy fleabane, Queen Anne’s lace, seaside lavender (sea side lavender can also be found on the marsh itself), glasswort, sea-bite, and marsh elder (also called “high tide bush”). In our Massachusetts salt marshes there are typically five types of grass to be found and their locations in the marsh indicate how well they tolerate salt water. Spike grass (Disticulus spicata) doesn’t like to be under water every day and is found on the high marsh, but Spartina alterniflora (saltmarsh cordgrass) enjoys a saltwater bath twice a day and is often found lining the ditches in the marsh. People in the area once used Spartina patens, or saltmarsh hay, to feed their cows. This type of grass bends over forming the distinct swirls or ‘cow licks’ serving as a living mulch that keeps the surface of the marsh wet during low tides. Hundreds of years ago and today people collect washed up salt marsh hay as mulch for their gardens. Not only is it free, it also contains no weed seeds.

Marshes offer expansive views in large part because they don’t have trees. They are dynamic systems capable of adjusting to sea level changes and sever storms. New England salt marshes are remnants of glaciation. As the glaciers melted sending rivers of icy meltwater and sediment into the oceans, some of the sediment formed small islands where plants could establish small clumps. These clumps slowed the adjacent waters and more sediment settled out in the slower water. The plant clumps grew in this manner forming a ribbon along the coast and at the mouths of rivers. Able to withstand being flooded by the tide and baked by the sun, salt marshes are hardy ecosystems. The daily tides keep nutrients in almost constant suspension circulating through the marsh and out into the shallow coastal waters.

The estuary bordering this marsh is a very productive place. Eighty-five percent of the fish and shellfish in Massachusetts live in an estuary at some point in their lives. Egrets and herons can often be seen here hunting marsh minnows (or “mummichog”) and sticklebacks, and small sandpipers may be seen enjoying worms, crustaceans, and mollusks.

There are a variety of mammals that will visit a salt marsh in search of food and shelter, including mice, voles, shrews, and raccoons. Marshland is also good habitat for the eastern coyote, which has made a comeback over the last 30 years.

What’s a salt marsh?

A salt marsh is a low coastal grassland that is covered at least once a month by the rising tide. Salt marshes are found on the edges of estuaries; places where a river flows into the ocean. In the marsh, the water flows very slowly so sediments are dropped from the water and build up a muddy environment where salt adapted plants can grow and small animals can live.

Why are they important?

People can benefit from natural salt marshes in several ways. Salt marshes provide protected nursery areas for juvenile fishes, shellfish, crabs and shrimp. These animals are savored as seafood delights when they grow larger and are caught by fisherman, thereby providing food and a source of income for people. Numerous commercially important fish species spend the early part of their lives in salt marshes. Salt marshes provide a home t for other animals such as birds, small mammals and turtles and serve as a rest stop for migratory waterfowl. Many people visit salt marshes simply to watch birds and enjoy nature's beauty.

The extensive root systems of salt marsh plants enable them to withstand strong winds, waves and flooding from storms, and act as natural buffers against storm damage to upland development. Salt marshes also act as filters. Tidal creeks meander through the marshes transporting valuable nutrients to marsh and estuary inhabitants. Pollutants from upland activities flow through the marsh and may be trapped by marsh vegetation and sediments, reducing the pollutant load entering estuaries. People benefit from the buffering and filtering capabilities of the marsh by having cleaner water. Clean water is good for the environment and helps maintain healthy populations of the fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters.

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Cindy Delpapa on salt marshes in Quincy, MA

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