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Estuarine Habitats

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salt marshes | mangrove forests

A rich array of habitats surround estuaries. The type of habitat is usually determined by the local geology and climate. Habitats associated with estuaries include salt marshes, mangrove forests, mud flats, tidal streams, rocky intertidal shores, reefs, and barrier beaches.

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Click here to read more about salt-marsh habitats and to view a large slideshow.

Examples of nearly every type of estuarine habitat exist along the coastline of the United States. In New England, salt-tolerant grasses fill salt marshes along the shores of tidal rivers. As one travels further south, the Atlantic Coast becomes much sandier, and barrier beaches enclose huge bays or sounds. In this region, estuarine habitats cover large areas along tidal rivers, and salt marshes reach far inland. Along the southern coast of Florida and lining the Gulf of Mexico are extensive mazes of mangrove forests, also called mangals.

mangrove trees

Mangrove forests line about two-thirds of the coastlines in tropical areas of the world. They can be recognized by their dense tangle of prop roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. Click on image to read more about mangroves and for a larger view. (Photo: Rookery Bay NERRS site)

From northwestern Florida to the Texas coast are long, narrow, sandy barrier islands and shallow estuaries lined with marshes. Along the Texas coast, barrier islands protect estuaries that have formed narrow lagoons with small openings to the Gulf of Mexico. In these areas, estuaries with very little freshwater input often become hypersaline or super salty.

Along the Pacific Coast of the United States, from northern California to Alaska, coastal rivers flow quickly out of the mountains and into very small estuaries. San Francisco Bay is one of the largest estuaries on the U.S. West Coast, and one of only a few that is similar in size to those found on the East Coast.


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