Estuaries are, in the simplest terms, areas where fresh water from inland rivers and streams meets salt water from the ocean. These areas are extremely important, as they are some of the most biologically productive systems in the world. Estuaries can also be found in fresh water areas where two chemically disctinct bodies of water meet in a semi-enclosed bay or sound.

Georgia possesses over 368,000 acres of salt marsh. The salt marsh is a critical habitat and developmental nursery for numerous ecologically, commercially and recreationally valuable species as well numerous birds, mammals and reptiles.

Nearly 90% of the marsh in coastal Georgia is covered by one species of plant – smooth cordgrass, known scientifically as Spartina alterniflora. To survive in estuarine areas, marsh plants are uniquely designed to tolerate the salt water that floods the marshes twice daily at high tide. Likewise, aquatic animals that frequent the marshes are accustomed to fluctuating salinity and oxygen levels, temperature, and food availability.

Sapelo Island Trivia

  • Is Georgia’s 4th largest barrier island.
  • It’s located midway on the Georgia coastline and is separated from the mainland by 5 miles of marsh and tidal waterways.
  • Is made up of a total of 16,500 acres, of which, nearly 5,600 acres are tidal salt marsh.
  • The Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve occupies just over ⅓ of Sapelo and is comprised of 2,100 upland acres and 4,000 acres of tidal salt marsh.
  • The Reserve lies in the midst of an estuary where the currents of Doboy Sound and the Duplin River converge.
  • The Reserve encompasses ecologies typical of the Carolinian biogeographic region which spans the south Atlantic coastline of the United States from North Carolina to Northern Florida. This region is characterized by vast expanses of tidal salt marshes protected by a buffer of barrier islands.