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Definition: salt marsh from Processing Water, Wastewater, Residuals, and Excreta for Health and Environmental Protection: An Encyclopedic Dictionary

A coastal marsh that is wet with saltwater or periodically flooded by the sea, and then drained as the tides rise and fall. It supports salttolerant grasses and plants.

Summary Article: Salt Marsh
From The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments

The term salt marsh is primarily associated with a marsh or wetland located near the sea, although it may also be applied to inland marsh in arid regions where the water contains a high proportion of salt. In both cases the salt marsh is distinguished from freshwater marshes by the extent to which the fauna and flora are salt water adapted. Coastal salt marshes are usually associated with river and estuarine systems and are characterized by regular tidal inundation by sea water. The regularity of inundation means that salt marsh vegetation is characterized by regular zonation that reflects the length of time different areas are inundated by tides; therefore, only halophytes - plants that are adapted morphologically and/or physiologically to grow in saline environments - can survive long term in salt marshes.

Salt marshes constitute an extremely rich environment that provides not only a specific ecological niche for flora and fauna, but they are also an important breeding ground for fish and bird life, and therefore are important for birdwatching and recreational fishing. Significant salt marshes for nature-based tourism include the Vam Sat Salt Marsh Forest Ecological Tourist Zone in Vietnam and the Ribble Estuary in the UK. Salt marshes also serve as an important natural barrier between the sea and higher coastal land, and have an important role in reducing storm surge and thereby limiting coastal flooding.

Historically, salt marshes have not been valued environments and are often reclaimed for coastal housing and industrial development, including the development of recreation assets such as golf courses. Where reclamation has occurred, the environmental impacts have been serious for many species as well as increasing the likelihood of coastal flooding. The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the USA was made substantially worse by the reduction of coastal marshland. As a result of concerns over sea level rise and climate change in the Netherlands and the UK, some agricultural areas that were created on drained salt marsh are now being sea-reclaimed as conservation and recreation areas and as flood defences.

C. Michael Hall
© CAB International 2008.

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