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Estuaries Essay

1173 words - 5 pages

An estuary is a coastal area where fresh water from rivers and streams mixes withsalt water from the ocean. Many bays, sounds, and lagoons along coasts are estuaries.Portions of rivers and streams connected to estuaries are also considered part of theestuary. The land area from which fresh water drains into the estuary is its watershed.Estuaries come in all shapes and sizes, each unique to their location and climate. Bays,sounds, marshes, swamps, inlets, and sloughs are all examples of estuaries.An estuary is a fascinating place from the largest landscape features to the smallestmicroscopic organisms. When viewing an estuary from the air on is practically amazed bydramatic river bends as freshwater finds its way back to the sea. The vast expanse ofmarsh grasses or mudflats extend into calm waters that then follow the curve of anexpansive barrier beach. Wherever there are estuaries, there is a unique beauty. As riversmeet the sea, both ocean and land contribute to an ecosystem of specialized plants andanimals.At high tide, seawater changes estuaries, submerging the plants and flooding creeks,marshes, panes, mudflats or mangroves, until what once was land is now water.Throughout the tides, the days and the years, an estuary is cradled between outreachingheadlands and is buttressed on its vulnerable seaward side by fingers of sand or mud.Estuaries transform with the tides, the incoming waters seemingly bringing back tolife organisms that have sought shelter from their temporary exposure to the non-aquaticworld. As the tides decline, organisms return to their protective postures, receding intosediments and adjusting to changing temperatures.The community of life found on the land and in the water includes mammals, birds,fish, reptiles, shellfish, and plants all interacting within complex food webs. Flocks ofshore birds stilt through the shallows, lunging long bills at their abundant prey of fish,worms, crabs or clams. Within the sediments, whether mud, sand or rocks, live billions ofmicroscopic bacteria, a lower level of the food web based largely on decaying plants.Estuaries are tidally-influenced ecological systems where rivers meet the sea andfresh water mixes with salt water. Estuaries provide habitat;tens of thousands of birds,mammals, fish, and other wildlife depend on estuaries. They provide marine organisms,most commercially valuable fish species included, depend on estuaries at some pointduring their development. Where productivity is concerned, a healthy, untended estuaryproduces from four to ten times the weight of organic matter produced by a cultivatedcorn field of the same size. Estuaries provide water filtration;water draining off theuplands carries a load of sediments and nutrients. As water flows through salt marsh peatand the dense mesh of marsh grass blades, much of the sediment and nutrient load isfiltered out. This filtration process creates cleaner and clearer water. Estuaries alsoprovide flood control. Porous, resilient salt...

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