Importance of Natural Resources

Mucking About in the Marsh — Salt Marsh Ecology

It is hard to get dirtier than spending a day in a salt marsh. Our Spring Breakthrough course is basically an opportunity to spend a week running around in salt marshes, on the beach, and in the estuary. We’re going to go out, see what we see, ask questions, and try to figure out why the marsh works the way it does, why the beach works the way it does. One of the great reasons for doing this class is that the Marine Lab is an amazing place to spend time. It’s right on the sounds, and you’re literally minutes away from the beach, the barrier islands, and the marsh. I think that the wow moment is the total diversity – the number of different organisms that you can see in a very limited space in a very limited time. Everywhere from an oyster reef, covered in all kinds of diverse seaweeds, to a salt marsh crawling with mud crabs, to looking at baby turtles hatching. The Marine Lab is actually a great place where all sorts of state-of-the-art research is going in Biology – from Molecular Biology up to Ecology as well as lots of really interesting Social Science – trying to understand how humans interact with these coastal systems. One of the really pressing issues about studying coastal wetlands is that they are an incredibly threatened ecosystem from a number of directions. There are places where an enormous amount of carbon is stored, places where pollutants get trapped between the land and the ocean, a little too much salt and they die, too much fresh water and they die, so there’s this really interesting process of salt waters having to respond to rising sea levels and understanding how they might do that, and how they might not, is really important. They’re a critical ecosystem, and whether you’re going to work on them as a lifetime career or not, understanding their importance as a voter and as a citizen I think is a really important thing that this course can offer. Science is really about asking questions that nobody has asked before and you can only do that by doing it and so that’s really what we’re going to spend this week doing. The only prerequisites for this class is that you be a curious person and be willing to get dirty. I’m Emily Burnhart and I’m Justin Wright and this is our Spring Breakthrough! You’ll have better stories about the beach than all your friends who went down to Fort Lauterdale.

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