How Do Humans and Plants Interact in Tidal Wetlands? main content.

How Do Humans and Plants Interact in Tidal Wetlands?

Part of Hall of Ocean Life.


Stepping off of our noisy bus into the frigid morning air, I am immediately astounded by the primal beauty of the marsh. The golden and magenta sunrise highlights the background, silhouetting the graceful cordgrass as it dances in the biting wind, and reflecting shards of sparkling light on the glassy water. The area appears untouched by human existence, a place completely separate from the commotion and insanity of the highway no more than 20 feet away; time seems to have stopped here. The marsh is so still and hushed, almost lifeless, that I can hear the wail of a lone osprey soaring high above me in the purple sky, hungrily searching for prey hidden in the vast mud flats. Awed by the striking landscape, it is difficult to focus on my intended purpose for visiting this place. I have come to study the marsh, focusing on plants as a vital component of this ecosystem.

March landscape, 9:00 am

The first few minutes of our expedition pass in a flurry of activity that disrupts the initial tranquility of the marsh, as different groups find a GPS reading of our location, begin to test the water chemistry of the creek, and unload our materials from the bus. During these moments, I pause to take my first photograph, which clearly chronicles the human interaction already underway in the marsh. Then, trudging into the knee-high cordgrass with my field journal in hand, I search for a quiet area where I can sit alone and write about my first perceptions of the area. I am still hypnotized by the marsh's serenity and beauty, and I find it hard to believe that this quiet place can shelter such a diverse range of organisms. The first thing I notice about the marsh is its ocean of vegetation that seems to stretch for miles. Looking out over this rambling wet prairie, temporarily invaded by amateur explorers, I begin to wonder how humans affect the natural order of wetland vegetation. Is human intervention in this ecosystem positive or negative? 

Field sketch of Spartina alterniflora (Click to enlarge.)

The most noticeable feature of the area is the salt-marsh co