The salt marsh is the life blood of the Lowcountry.
As the tides rush in and out, the marsh nourishes and revitalizes all the creeks and rivers, and, in turn sustains all of our amazing wildlife. There is no fresh water of significant size flowing into our tidal waterways. The Cooper River, just east of Daufuskie is nearly as salty as the ocean.
Dominated by perennial cordgrass (Spartina Alterniflora), the marshes serve to absorb tide and wind and energy from the sea.
In fact, cordgrass is the only species of plant that grows in salt water. Beaufort County has more salt marsh than any other county in the state and South Carolina has more salt marsh than any other state in the country.
During the full moon and new moon – when the gravitational pull on the earth is the greatest – the tidal range in our area can be 10 feet. These are called “Spring” tides. As the moon waxes at the 3rd quarter or wanes at the 1st quarter, the gravitational pull on the earth is weakened. During these times, the tidal amplitude averages about six feet. These are called “Neap” tides. Together with the influence of the moon, the concave curvature of our coastline causes the spring tide to be extreme.
During this time of year, the tide flushes last year’s crop of cordgrass from the marsh.
The tide then carries the cordgrass to our beaches. There, it forms the foundation of our dune system. On the beaches, these wracks of decaying cordgrass collect blowing sands. They continue to deteriorate, providing an essential food source for hungry shorebirds.
By Capt. Patte Ranney, Master Naturalist