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Salt Marsh Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Do you smell an unusual smell? If you're near the coast by the ocean, you might be smelling a salt marsh. Read this lesson to find out what a salt marsh is, how they're formed, and why they smell.

What's That Awful Smell?

In this lesson, we're going to take a trip to a salt marsh. Wear your boots because the land is very wet and sponge-like. Salt marshes are found along the coast, in areas where the ocean covers the land for at least part of the day. The first thing you'll probably notice is the smell; many salt marshes smell like rotten eggs! What makes them smell so bad?

A salt marsh is one kind of wetland, sometimes covered with water and sometimes not. The water that covers a salt marsh is usually the ocean; as the tide rises, the water flows over the land. At low tide, the water goes back into the ocean, leaving behind soggy, salty, wet land. The only plants that will grow in these areas are called halophytes, which like to live in salty places.

A Salt Marsh
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As the plants die, they rot and are broken down. Over time, the pile of rotting plants in a salt marsh gets thicker and thicker, forming peat. Peat is what makes the land of a salt marsh feel very spongy. Basically, the land is made of a pile of dead, rotting plants that is several feet thick.

These dead plants also give a salt marsh its bad smell. As the plants rot, they use up the oxygen that's in the saltwater. This makes the salt marsh a great place for bacteria to grow. It's the bacteria that cause the rotten egg smell of many salt marshes.

Salty, Smelly, and Spongy But Important

Salt marshes are smelly stretches of spongy land. How can these marshes be valuable? Believe it or not, they're very important! Many aquatic animals are found in salt marshes, including snails, shrimp, crabs, mussels, and many kinds of fish.

Salt Marsh
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Salt marshes also absorb rainwater and can help stop flooding in coastal areas. Marshes also help prevent the erosion, or wearing away, of the coast. Because of their spongy soil, salt marshes can also act like filters to help keep pollution from entering the ocean.

High and Low Marshes

Salt marshes have two different sections. The low marsh floods every day when the tide comes in, but the high marsh only floods about twice a month when the tides are highest. The high marsh isn't much higher than the low marsh, but the little bit of difference is important to the plants living there. Low marsh areas are much saltier because they're covered with saltwater more often.

Snails on Smooth Cordgrass
snailgrass

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