Salt Marsh – A Changing World


(Photo above) Haute couture in the salt marshes

Through my internship I have had the opportunity to explore other ongoing projects at Fire Island National Seashore besides my own plant related work, and this has been a tremendous learning experience. I had the chance recently to assist some of the Northeastern regional coastal ecologists with their sea level studies which took me off the beach and to the bay side salt marshes on the island.

My fellow SCA intern, Danielle, and I took off by boat in the early morning with Dana, Charlie, and Jim – three visiting scientists who regularly come to Fire Island to look at soil accumulation in the salt marsh in relation to the rate of sea level rise. They were all very intelligent, and even more importantly had awesome senses of humor. Since we had no scrap paper, they drew out pictures in the sand to try to express to us what their findings had been up to date. Sand usually filters particles through quickly, but those sand images definitely stuck in my mind..

View of the salt marsh

Thanks to the mucky conditions of the salt marshes, we had the chance to explore some new fashion trends – thigh high waders and mosquito bug jackets. The study itself involved visiting different sites where a white layer of indicator soil had been intentionally deposited so samples could be taken to measure the accumulation on top. To take the samples we got to use cryogenic corers, which used liquid nitrogen to freeze a soil core for easy removal and study. The corers were cool in all sense of the word, and each sample was like a race against time, to take measurements before the core began to melt and unfreeze.

We also had to take some elevation measurements with a very fancy device that simultaneously took readings of our GPS coordinates. I felt like a rockstar scientist with all the new gadgets I got to play with, and if that wasn’t already enough I learned about the highly edible glasswort. One of my favorite parts of becoming familiar with the flora in an area is to learn the edible or medicinal uses, and out in the field I discovered a tasty new use for glasswort. It has a very high salt content, but would definitely be a delicious addition to a fresh salad.. or be great to nom on when hunger strikes in the field!

Danielle and Jim unloading our equipment for the day

All in all, I learned a lot out in the salt marshes, but unfortunately one lesson that made a large impact on me was how potentially threatened the ecosystem is by global climate changes. We live in a changing world and this was really driven home to me by the results of our study, which is unfortunate because the salt marsh has so many important functions. Fire Island’s salt marshes are nesting grounds for many bird species and also act as a buffer against severe weather, but they are being affected by the rising sea level and we should try to prevent any further damages to this delicate habitat.