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Habitats in the Watershed



The Salt Marsh…where land gives way to sea

The salt marsh is that grassy place where land gives way to sea.  At its very edge, washed by tides twice daily…the heat and wind and salt and sea defeat all but a few well adapted plants.  Salt marsh cordgrass is the dominant plant that gives our salt marshes their carpet of green.  And, in places, one finds some succulent glasswort, once pickled for food.  Mussels cling to its seaward edges, and a close up inspection finds it teeming with life.  Read more »

The High Marsh…a foot makes all the difference

In the salt marsh, a foot of elevation can make all the difference.  A little higher in marsh, salt marsh hay, once used for livestock grows, and inches higher, groundsel bush, marsh elder, and bayberry form a shrubby zone that thickens into maritime forest edged with red cedar, loblolly pine, red maple and American Holly. Read more »

Maritime Forest…a sheltering habitat

Loblolly pines are the sentinels over the maritime forest around the Inland Bays and in the understory, red cedars, black gum, red maple and American Holly grow.  These trees are adapted to high winds, salt spray, and occasionally getting their “feet” wet.

Shelter and cover for birds and animals
Many animals that hunt in the marshes and along the shore make their home in the maritime forest where they find cover from wind, sea and extreme temperatures.  The forests provide rookery and nesting sites for herons, egrets, bald eagles and osprey.

The shiny green leaves of the American Holly reflect light in the understory of our maritime
forests.  It is  Delaware’s State tree; a very deserving tree for the honor.  Not only is it beautiful with its deep green leaves and bright red berries, popular for Christmas wreaths, but it is a highly adapted tree that can grow in the salty winds close to the sea, in dry sandy woods, and in wet freshwater marshes.

Freshwater Wetlands & Tributaries…hidden places

The headwaters of our Inland Bays streams are hidden places, unknown by most, the secret beginnings of our rivers that refresh the Bays.  At their origin, they are small streams, growing larger as they receive water from other tributaries that flow into them.  Rivers, and the freshwater wetlands at their edges, are efficient filters, but humans have long used rivers to get rid of what we didn’t want, sending it downstream, and we have overloaded their capacity to handle it all.

What goes UP the streams? These fresh water streams are the spawning habitat for many of our marine species.  Androgynous fish like Striped Bass, herring and American Shad, spend their adult lives in the ocean, but each spring return to spawn in the freshwater tributaries of our Bays.  And eels… Read more »

Deeper, Open Waters

Deep in the Inland Bays isn’t very deep!  Except for at the Indian River Inlet, and where channels are dredged, one could walk across many parts of the Bays at low tide.  Bay depths average less than 8 feet.  But these deeper areas are the denizen of bluefish, sea trout and striped bass, large predators, who depend on the silversides, anchovies and menhaden and other small forage fish for their food. Read more »

Shallow Waters

The shallow edges of the Bays are magic; changing with the tides, the winds, the season.  Sometimes they are clear…a glassy view to a sandy bottom; sometimes grey and churned up…the color of slate reflected from a stormy sky.

Underwater Meadows of Grass

Underwater MeadowIn these shallow places, the sunlight can reach the bottom.  Like summer gardens attract butterflies, these meadows attract fish in spring.  Fish begin the gather in these underwater meadows and stay through the autumn.  Many larger fish come to the grasses to feed.  Many smaller fish, like the pipefish, a close relative of the seahorse, live in these beds.  These grassy meadows provide cover for young fish and crabs; and are nesting and feeding areas for countless species.  Blue crabs shed and mate safer from predators in these protected, shallow sea grass beds. Read More »

Intertidal Flats

This is the zone from the high tide line to the low tide line.  Some flats are soft mud and some are sand, but all are rich with organisms.  Still, only certain species have adapted to this high stress environment that is overwashed by salty tides twice each day, and then parched and dried in the heat of sun and wind at low tide.

Who lives here? Here the semiterrestial crustaceans, like fiddler crabs and hermit crabs patrol the border between saltmarsh and bay.  Snails are common in this zone.  The Atlantic slipper shell is a common sight on the backs of horseshoe crabs or on shells occupied by hermit crabs.  Under the mud is the dwelling place of worms, mollusks, shrimps and burrowing amphipods. Read more »

Sandy Beaches

pasture_pointSandy beaches on the Bays lie in white crescents on the edges of some parts of our bays.  These sandy habitats are critical nesting habitats for two important species native to the Bays; the Diamondback Terrapin and the Horseshoe Crab and are feeding areas for wading birds and shore birds. Read more »