Town of Hempstead  

Dept. Conservation & Waterways

Marine Nature Study Area

“The Outdoor Classroom”

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We are looking forward to your visit to the Marine Nature Study Area and the opportunity to serve you and your students. To ensure that your visit is enjoyable and educationally valuable, your cooperation is required. We ask you and the accompanying chaperones to be responsible for the following:  

Maintaining group discipline   Keeping the group together and quiet   Making sure the group observes the study area rules  

Please share these rules with your students prior to your visit:  

1. No running or excessive noise 6. There are restrooms at the site. Cooperation in keeping them clean will be appreciated  
2. No throwing of stones or other objects 7. Please, no food, gum or cigarettes during the tour
3. Stay on the trail and boardwalks at all times 8. Lunch may be eaten only in designated area. Use waste receptacles provided
4. No collecting of plants or animals (living or dead) without permission 9. No radios or headphones
5. Do not litter

You and your students will be outdoors, so be sure everyone is dressed comfortably. It is usually cooler and breezier along the shore. Boots are not necessary, but comfortable shoes are advised. Insect repellent may be useful.

If your group has arranged to participate in a seining or “in water” program dress appropriately or have a change of clothes.  Everyone must wear footwear while in the water; individuals without footwear will not be permitted in the water.  Broken shells, barnacles and foreign objects are scattered along the bay floor.

Data sheets for the Marine Nature Study Area are enclosed. It contains some information that will be useful in preparing your class for their scheduled tour.  

Thank you for your interest and cooperation.

Guided Tours for Organized Groups

a)       Reservations are required two weeks in advance

b)       Tours range from 45min-2hrs

c)       Tours can be tailored to age and group preference


The Ecology of the Salt Marsh


a)       Ecology: the relationship between living organisms and their environment.

b)       System: a group of units combined to form a whole and operate in unison.

c)       Ecosystem: any specific group of inter-related organisms living with and acting upon a particular environment that, in turn, controls or restricts the type of organisms it supports.

The Salt Marsh is a Dynamic System

The salt marsh is a dynamic (energetic) system involving the non-living elements such as water, minerals and sunlight combined with living entities such as the PRODUCERS, CONSUMERS, and DECOMPOSERS: Food Web






Bacteria & Fungi


The association between PRODUCERS, CONSUMERS, and DECOMPOSERS is known as the food web.

Coastal Tides

    The tides are the more factor of a salt marsh habitat.  The constant water level change coursed the various adaptations and evolutionary changes in the plants and animals that make the salt marsh there home.  There are two major factors that control the tides: Gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon.

1.        Spring Tides: Occur when the Gravitational forces of the Sun and Moon act on the Earth in the same direction.   This happens during a full moon and new moon approximately two weeks apart.  The difference between high tide and low tide is going to be high

2.        Neap Tides:  Occur when the Gravitational forces of the Sun and Moon act on the Earth in the opposite direction.  The difference between high tide and low tide is going to be low.

Salt Marsh Zones

                There are four primary zones of the salt marsh: Submerged, Intertidal, Supratidal, and Fringed Zone.  These zones not necessarily in a “neat” order from low to high but are dependent on marsh topography.

1.        Submerged Zone:  This zone is always flooded whether or not is high or low tide. The dominant plant forms are marine algae.

a.        There are two main forms of Marine algae, microalgae and macroalgae.

b.       Microalgae are single celled plants that are free floating in water.

c.        Macroalgae are groups of microalgaes that form distinct shapes.

2.        Intertidal Zone: This area is subject to flooding at high tides which occurs twice a day every 12 ˝ hrs.  The dominant plant form is salt marsh cord grass.

a.        Salt marsh cord grass Spartina alterniflora: a large, course grass with leaves that may be ˝” wide at the base and it may approach 10’ in height, more commonly 5’-6’ high; flowers in August.

b.       Salt marsh cord grass forms a dense stand that resembles a small forest. Almost no light reaches the mud below.

c.        The wind and breeze are stilled by the dense growth and subsequently the humidity and temperature rise to higher levels.

d.       Where it grows, the tidal currents are strong and dead leaves are washed away.  Consequently, this area is relatively free of debris most of the year.

3.        Supratidal Zone: This area is flooded only at the Spring Tides.  The dominant plant form is salt meadow cord grass.

a.        Salt meadow cord grass Spartina patens: a fine, small grass, usually getting no taller than 2’, growing in low swirls; flowers in July.

b.       Salt meadow cord grass forms a dense cover that prevents light from reaching the marsh surface.

c.        The surface remains moist.  It is protected from the tidal currents by they densely intertwined salt meadow cord grass stems and its higher elevation; because of this fact debris accumulates from the previous years of growth.

d.       The stems are weak at the base, easily being bent to form “cowlicks.”

e.        Numerous kinds of animals depend upon this “protective mat” of old grass for their survival.

4.        Fringe Zone: This area is flooded only during extreme weather conditions.  The dominant plant form is Giant Reed, Phragmites australis.

a.        Phragmites is a colonial plant, spreading by rhizomes (underground stems) and capable of forming large stands or colonies arising from one or a few seeds or plant pieces.

b.       Can grow up to four meters (about 14 feet) and its stiff wide leaves and hollow stem. Its feathery and drooping inflorescences (clusters of tiny flowers) are purplish when flowering and turn whitish, grayish or brownish in fruit. Flowering occurs from July-October

c.        Their aggressive growth and tendency to out compete other plants and form monospecific (one species) stands can prevent the individual wildlife potential of an area.

d.        Some form of Phragmites has been in the U.S., but then another, more invasive form was brought over from Europe which aided in invasion of our wetlands.  

Challenges to Existence in the Salt Marsh

1)       Lack of Oxygen in soil

2)       Presence of salt

a)       Because the salt concentration in the salt water is so high, compared to salt marsh cord grass fluids, it needs to remove the salt.  It does so through specialized vacuoles that remove the salt and deposit it on the surfaces of the leaves.

3)       Accumulation

a)       If salt were allowed to become concentrated in the cell, the plant would die due to the fact that the salts cause the breakdown of cell walls.  The cells then die.  Many salts are harmful, especially in high concentrations.

i)         Sodium: has very little work to do in the plant, necessary for growth.

ii)       Chlorine: maintain electrical neutrality, Potassium Chloride.

iii)      Potassium: is very important to plant metabolism.

Salt Marsh Productivity

1)       The salt marsh is an extremely productive ecosystem.  Various studies have been made, including one by the Town of Hempstead Dept. of Conservation and Waterways, to show how its productivity rate compares to other situations.

2)       Marsh plants caught only 6% of available sunlight falling on the marsh, but there are few natural or man-made systems that do as well

a)       Estuarial -------------5-10%

b)       Corel reef ------------3%

c)       Wet agriculture------1 ˝ -5

d)       Corn field ------------2%

e)       Desert ----------------1/3%

f)        Dry agriculture------1/3 –1 ˝% 

g)       Coastal---------------1- 1 ˝ %

h)       Open water----------1/3%

3)       Good salt marsh production----------10 tons per year/ acre     <-----150% better

Good wheat field production---------4 tons per year/ acre

 Some Plants of the Salt Marsh

Common Name

Scientific Name

salt marsh cordgrass

Spartina alterniflora

salt meadow cordgrass

Spartina patens

slender glasswort

Salicornia europaea

sea lavender

Limonium carolinianum

giant reed

Phragmites australis

common mullein

Verbascum thapsus


Baccharis halimifolia

wrinkled rose

Rosa rugosa

Some Animals of the Salt Marsh

Common Name

Scientific Name

Common Name

Scientific Name





ribbed mussel

Modiolus demissus

fiddler crab

Uca sp.

quahog (hardshell clam)

Mercenaria mercenaria

blue claw crab

Callinectes sapidus

softshell clam

Mya arenaria

mud crab

Neopanope texana

mud snail

Ilyanassa obsoleta

glass shrimp

Palaemonetes vulgaris

marsh periwinkle

Littorina irrorata

horseshoe crab

Llmulus polyphemus





greenhead fly

Tabanus nigrovittatus


Ondatra zibethica

deer flies

Chrysops sp.

meadow vole

Microtus pennsylvanicus

salt marsh mosquito

Aedes sollicitans

norway rat

Rattus norvegicus


Nemobius sp.


Procyon lotor





common killifish

Fundulus heteroclitus

great blue heron

Ardea herodias

sheepshead minnow

Cyprinodon variegatus

great egret

Ardea  albus

striped killifish

Fundulus majalis

snowy egret

Egretta thula

atlantic silverside

Menidia menidia

clapper rail

Rallus longirostris


Tautoga onitis

mallard duck

Anus platyrhnchos


Syngnathus spp.

black duck

Anus rubripes


Pomatomus saltatrix

northern harrier

Circus cyaneus


Paralichthys dentalus 


Pandion haliaetus

atlantic menhaden

Brevoortia tyrannus


Catoptrophorus semipalmatus


Environmental Problems in the Salt Marsh

1)       Pollution

a)       Sewage effluent

b)       Garbage, (Landfill)

c)       Detergents

d)       Pesticides

e)       Heavy metals

2)       Development

a)       Filling in marsh land for home development

b)       The Town of Hempstead protects 17,000 acres of wetland, down from 35,000 acres along the shoreline back in the 1940’s.

Some Salt Marsh Activities

1)       Vegetation Survey: transects through plant communities

2)       Animal Survey: close up investigation of wildlife communities-

a)       Birds

b)       Mammal

c)       Invertebrates

3)       Sand Dune Ecology: detailed study of the sand dune community, plants, animals, environmental factors and adaptations for survival

4)       Fish Seining: survey of fish & bay community population (Special Permission from Staff)

5)       General Salt Marsh Ecology

6)       Wildlife Management: Principles of wildlife management and their application.

7)       Salt marsh environmental parameter studies

a)       Tides

b)       Temperature

c)       Air flow

d)       Salinity

e)       Dissolved Oxygen

f)        Turbidity

8)       Animal tracks

9)       Animal home

10)    Nature Photography

11)    Bird Identification