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Natural Communities and Habitats:
Coastal

In This Section:
Beaches/Coastal Strand | Tidal Flats/Salt Marsh

Beach
A beach on the Gulf of Mexico (St. Vincent Island, Franklin County) (photo by Karla Brandt)

Beaches are constantly reshaped by waves, winds, and tides. Waves and winds pick up sands and reshape the shoreline. Tides sweep sand, shells, and trash onto land and back out to sea. There’s so much change in this zone that vegetation doesn’t have a chance to get established. Both birds and sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches. Resident wading birds and migrating shorebirds feed at the water’s edge.

Typical plants: None

Rare plants: None

Typical animals: great egret, great blue heron, reddish egret, snowy egret, willet, ruddy turnstone, black-bellied plover, sanderling, herring gull, laughing gull

Rare animals: snowy plover, piping plover, Wilson’s plover, least tern, royal tern, Caspian tern, sandwich tern, American oystercatcher, black skimmer

Where to see it:
Bald Point State Park
St. George Island State Park
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Coastal strand is the long, narrow strip between the beach on one side (where plants can’t grow) and the much more stable communities on the inland side, which may be dry oak scrub, pineland, or hardwood forest. The coastal strand includes the inland edge of the beach as well as the dunes. Plants and animals must be tough to survive in the coastal strand. They must be adapted to salt spray, wind, and occasional flooding. Most of the plant species are vines, grasses, and herbs (that is, non-woody plants). After a storm wipes out the plants, the coastal strand is recolonized from seeds blown in on the wind or contributed in bird and animal droppings.

Dunes can be formed when the wind hits plants such as sea oats. The plants slow the wind down just enough to drop the sand it’s carrying. Isn’t it remarkable that these plants can withstand salt spray and strong winds but cannot survive human footsteps?

Typical plants: sea oats, beach morning glory, railroad vine, sandspur, seashore paspalum

Typical animals: ghost crab, six-lined racerunner, red-winged blackbird, savannah sparrow, raccoon

Rare plants: Godfrey’s blazing star, large-leaved jointweed

Rare animals: *Green turtle, *loggerhead, *leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, *diamondback terrapin, *snowy plover, piping plover, Wilson’s plover, *least tern, *royal tern, Caspian tern, *sandwich tern, *American oystercatcher, *black skimmer, *St. Andrew’s beach mouse
*Species that nest on coastal strand in the Apalachicola region

Where to see it:
Bald Point State Park
Cape St. George State Reserve
Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Click
here to see a map of beaches and coastal strand habitats in the western ARROW region.

Click here to see a map of beaches and coastal strand habitats in the eastern ARROW region.

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Food Web
courtesy Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program - Mollie Beattie Coastal Habitat Community
Tidal flats are stretches of shoreline that are protected from the waves that pound the beaches. Tidal flats are also known as mudflats (because their surface soils are muds brought in by channels from uplands) and intertidal zones (because they are between the tides -- exposed at low tide and flooded at high tide). We may not see much besides mud when we look at tidal flats, but many animals see breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A world of invertebrate animals lives in and on that mud, including tube worms, sand dollars, burrowing shrimp, sea cucumbers, and assorted mollusks and crabs. Not only are there lots of different animal species, but also there are thousands of animals per square foot. These invertebrates live on tiny bits of leaves and stems of both land and aquatic plants that are brought into the mudflats in freshwater channels or by the tides. The invertebrates become food for fish and birds. When the tide comes in, fish come with it and have a feast; when the tide goes out, birds pig out. Tidal flats are essential refueling stops for migrating shorebirds.

Willet
Eat or be eaten: a willet munches a fiddler crab (photo by Karla Brandt)
Typical plants: None

Typical animals: Willet, sandpiper, dowitcher, white ibis, great egret, great blue heron, reddish egret, herring gull, laughing gull

Rare animals: Snowy plover, piping plover, Wilson’s plover, least tern, royal tern, Caspian tern, sandwich tern, American oystercatcher, black skimmer

Where to see it:
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Click
here to see a map of tidal flats in the ARROW region.

Salt marsh
Salt marsh dominated by black needlerush -- if you wade out into it, it'll stab you (photo by Karla Brandt)
Salt marsh: Is it land? Yes. Is it water? Yes. Its boundaries are fluid, adjusting themselves according to storms, erosion, sedimentation, the ebb and flow and meandering of tidal creeks, and sea level changes. Salt marsh may not be much to look at, but what it does for us is spectacular. Those monotonous stretches of grasses produce an enormous amount of dead plant matter, which is quickly broken down by crabs and other little creatures into tiny pieces, called detritus, which in turn feeds the young of many fish and shellfish species that end up on our tables. Blue crabs, shrimp, mullet, seatrout, and large-mouth bass spend part of their lives in the marshes of the Apalachicola estuary. No marsh? No seafood.

You can detect where the tide is strongest by which species of grass dominates. There’s smooth cordgrass where the marsh is flooded by tides most frequently, and black needlerush where the tides don’t reach quite as far. In transition zones between the marsh grasses and the adjacent uplands, you’ll find glasswort, saltwort, and marsh elder.

Many of the salt marsh’s inhabitants are seldom seen, but are sometimes heard. Listen for the clack-clack-clacking of clapper rails and the tremendously loud song of the tiny marsh wren, and if you’re really and truly lucky, you’ll hear the black rail’s “KEEE-KEEE-doo.” For many birders, the black rail is a holy grail of sorts, because it is so seldom seen -- and not often heard, either.

Typical plants: smooth cordgrass, black needlerush, glasswort, saltwort, saltgrass, sea oxeye daisy, marsh elder, saltbush

Rare plants: Godfrey’s spiderlily, corkwood

Rare animals: Gulf salt marsh snake, diamondback terrapin, Marian’s marsh wren, Scott’s seaside sparrow, black rail, Gulf salt marsh mink

Where to see it:
Bald Point State Park
Cape St. George State Reserve
Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park
Ochlockonee River State Park
St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge
Tate’s Hell State Forest
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Click here to see a map of salt marshes in the ARROW region.

Sources:

Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the natural communities of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahasse, FL. Available at FNAI's website.

Glbert, T., and B. Stys. 2004. Descriptions of vegetation and land cover types mapped using Landsat imagery. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Office of Environmental Services, Tallahassee, FL. Available at Florida Vegetation and Land Cover - 2003.

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This page was last modified on : 09/30/2004

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