How to Use the Guide


If you live along the Southeast coast of the United States, then you are familiar with the expanse of salt marshes and the tidal creeks that dissect them. If you have never seen the beautiful salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystems of the Southeast, then we hope this guide will provide you with a perspective of them and that you will consider visiting one. They provide us with a wealth of unrecognized benefits. Whether you are an angler, a bird watcher, an outdoor enthusiast, or a lover of seafood, the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem contributes to the quality of your life. The Guide to the Salt Marshes and Tidal Creeks of the Southeastern United States was developed to provide readers with an appreciation for this ecosystem and how important it is to sustaining our coast and quality of life. We hope you find this guide useful in your explorations, and that it provides you with an appreciation for the value of this important ecosystem.

Important Terms and Glossary

Words that are italicized, bold, and blue refer to a specific salt marsh zone and/or a main theme of the paragraph. Words that are underlined, bold, and orange have associated definitions that can be found by placing your cursor over the word in the text and/or locating the term in the Glossary section.


For the flora, we focus on two common types of algae found in the marsh and then the main terrestrial plants you will see. For the fauna, we get more specific and have organized our species by phylum. A phylum is a group of related life forms. Specifically, each phylum will represent a group of animals that have a similar body plan. Below is the breakdown of how all living things are organized.


You can see that phylum is close to the top, meaning it is a group encompassing many species. For each phylum we will provide an overview of the characteristics specific to that group. Each individual plant and animal will have its genus and species, referred to as its scientific name, below its common name.

Trophic Level

In order for you to better understand where each organism primarily fits in the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem food web, as well as where it can primarily be found, we have provided some identifying features next to each species’ name. For trophic level within the food web, you will see a capitalized letter inside a set of parentheses directly after the common name of the organism.

(P) = Producer – creates its own energy
(D) = Detritivore – consumes decaying matter
(H) = Herbivore – consumes plants
(C) = Carnivore – consumes animals
(O) = Omnivore – consumes plants and animals


For location within the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem, a cross section diagram is provided to the right of each species’ name. The color coded areas of the cross section indicate which zone or zones the organism primarily resides in. For example, a fish is designated here as primarily residing in the tidal creek zone; however, many can also be found feeding on the marsh surface at high tide. The colors for each zone are listed below, as well as some examples. For the fauna, you will also see an indication of whether the animal spends their whole life (Resident) or only part of their life (Transient) in the salt marshes and tidal creeks.

Blue = Tidal creek

Green = Low marsh

Orange = High marsh

Red = Upland border

Graph of all sections highlighted.

All zones

Tidal creek and low marsh habitat.

Tidal creek & low marsh

Upland border and high marsh habitat.

Upland border & high marsh

Sections of the Guide

The guide consists of 6 main sections all designed to provide you with information related to the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem. Please click on any of the sections below to learn more.

Ecological Setting

The salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem is a highly productive coastal wetland that occurs between upland areas, such as forests and urban environments, and estuaries, where fresh and salt water mix. As an intertidal habitat, the surface of the salt marsh is under water at high tide and dry at low tide.

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Ecosystem Services

Salt marshes and tidal creeks provide us with a wealth of benefits, referred to as ecosystem services, including maintaining healthy water, protecting us from flooding and erosion, providing nursery and essential habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, and supporting recreational activities that have become part of the coastal lifestyle.

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Threats and Protection

Southeastern coastlines are alluring places for millions of residents and visitors. In fact, over 50% of the U.S. population lives in coastal zones throughout the country. The scenic views and natural beauty of the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem are major factors attracting people to our coasts.

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History and Culture

Before European exploration of the Southeast, these lands were inhabited by a number of Native American tribes, such as the Seminole in Florida, the Guale in Georgia, the Yemassee in South Carolina, and the Waccamaw in North Carolina.

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What Can You Do?

Despite the many threats to the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem, there are a number of things that you can do to help protect it. Whether you are a homeowner, fisher, or recreation enthusiast, one of the biggest things you can do is to become a steward of our salt marshes and tidal creeks.

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The salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem is home to numerous organisms ranging from aquatic plants to fish. Discover the dominant flora and fauna that call this ecosystem home.

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