Life Between the Tides

The coast of Connecticut is a land dominated by the movement of water. The land changes daily with the tides, seasonally with the climate and over the years with changing water and nutrient levels. The inter-tidal areas along the shore are composed mostly of glacial drift, rocky ledges, artificial fill and bulkheads, a few sandy beaches, mud flats and about 15,000 acres of salt marsh, This is home to an amazing array of plants and animals.

Higher up in the intertidal zone are the salt marshes, here the land remains under water for less time than in the tidal flats. Marshes are incredibly productive and valuable habitats. An acre of Long Island Sound salt marsh can produce over 2.7 tons of grasses, algae, and other organic matter each year, compared to 1.5 ton per acre of wheat. Organic matter, not consumed by residents of the salt marshes, is washed into the Sound, where fish and bottom dwellers feed on it.  It is estimated that two-thirds of our edible fish and shell fish depend on salt marshes for their food.

At the low-tide border of the intertidal zone lie tidal flats. Here, the land is under water most of the time. Close inspection of tidal flats shows that the initial impression of lifelessness couldn’t be farther from the truth. An army of worms and small shellfish live just below the surface in the sediment, where they feed on algae and organic debris washed down from the shore and carried in by the tide from the coastal waters.


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