WORLD OF THE SALT MARSH IS A FASCINATING PLACE
October 7, 2012
a century ago, Sidney Laniers poem The Marshes of Glynn
spoke to the awesome mystique and natural beauty of the expansive salt
marshes of Glynn County, Ga. Today we have another advocate of these
marvelous habitats in Charles Seabrook. Although his book is prose,
Seabrook writes like a poet in The World of the Salt Marsh: Appreciating
and Protecting the Tidal Marshes of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast
(2012; University of Georgia Press).
span for this book is on one of the most productive ecosystems in the
world, the coastal Atlantic salt marshes between two well-known sites
Cape Hatteras, N.C., and Cape Canaveral, Fla. The reader is along
for the ride in this celebration of one of the most magnificent natural
habitats in the world. Seabrook explores the lifestyle of many of the
nearly endless array of marine and brackish-water creatures that inhabit
the expansive Spartina grasslands and tidal creeks. His enthusiasm extends
from microscopic plants and animals such as bacteria and algae, to fiddler
crabs, grass shrimp, and oysters, to diamondback terrapins and dolphins.
He frames much of his superb writing around solid facts taken from ecological
studies that have documented the fundamental facts about salt marshes
and the plants and animals that live in or visit them.
the fascinating ecological facts is that an acre of salt marsh is more
than twice as productive as an acre of the most fertile farm.
A healthy salt marsh also serves as a natural filter and purifier of
water (twice a day, as the tides move in and out). Likewise, the marshes
bear the initial brunt of tropical storms by diminishing the high winds
and preventing erosion. During fair weather and foul, the Spartina marshes
and smaller tidal creeks provide refuge for countless organisms, including
many of commercial importance, such as shrimp crabs and smaller fish.
book is written from the perspective of someone who deeply appreciates
the natural habitat with which he is clearly so familiar. Part of the
charm of the book is the authors presentation of some of the people,
such as crabbers, oystermen and basket makers whose livelihoods depend
upon a healthy salt marsh. The chapter titled An Endangered Culture
discusses the Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina (Gullah) and Georgia
(Geechee). The descendants of slaves freed after the Civil War, these
isolated societies on the sea islands kept intact their colorful
Creole language, folklore, cuisine, arts, rituals, and traditions.
Seabrooks captivating descriptions of how these placid Gullah-Geechee
cultures were overtaken and overrun by profligate commercial development
beginning in the 1960s is a part of the salt marsh ecosystem with which
most people, including ecologists, are not familiar.
addresses the conservation status of many of the species, some of important
commercial value, that create the remarkable biodiversity of this extraordinary
environment. His concern for the impacts that coastal development and
commercial interests have had and are continuing to have on the natural
salt marsh systems is well placed. He does not hold back on the negative
effects of human inroads and on the environmental damages that have
occurred throughout the southeastern Atlantic Coast. He notes that despite
the extensive work of ecologists to understand the salt marsh and the
efforts of poets to sing its praises, there are those who destroy
the marsh. He mentions some of the assaults being made on the
natural inhabitants and how we all stand to lose if the ecosystem begins
to unravel beyond our abilities to restore it. He offers hope for the
environmental health and continuation of the salt marsh but cautions
that the battles continue; we must be vigilant.
Laniers poem ends with these lines: And I would I could
know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in / On the length and
the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn. Charles Seabrook
provides a glimpse of some of the creatures that swimmeth below and
a look at the modern day perils they face.
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