The coast pulls hard on people and pilgrimages to the sea amount to sacred rituals. People come down off mountains. They flee landlocked cities, towns, and outposts to worship at shrines built of sun, sea, and sand. They leave lands familiar to pass wetlands. Green swamps. Past oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Into the land of black water rivers they go, knowing all rivers lead to the sea.
A sense of urgency builds. Destination? Chesapeake Bay, Bald Head Island, Pawleys Island, Santee Delta, McClellanville, Edisto Beach, Hunting Island, Savannah Wildlife Refuge, and points in between and beyond. The sea’s siren song is one of sweet seduction.
Closer, they anticipate that rich, rotten smell of life and death. It’s proof they’ve arrived.
Close now. Up and over bridges yielding views of green marsh where blue creeks twist and turn and cut through sweeps of white sand to empty into the sea.
Just a short ways now.
Disembark. Walk. Through borders of feathery fringes of sea oats, they see it—the continent’s surf-pounding, heart-pounding edge.
In your haste to get here did you overlook Earth’s pivotal ecosystem? Did you pay the thin green line no mind? Call it estuary. Call it marsh. Call it spartina. Call it sporobolus. Call it cord grass. Just call it what it is: the ecosystem that holds the key to life, for the estuary is the nursery for the sea and beyond.
Gulls, the original drone, can tell you the marsh is but a thin green line.
The seashore’s mystique comes from the estuary. Without green-gold estuarine reaches a crabber would have no reason to negotiate a foggy creek. Lighthouses would cast light over a watery plain devoid of life. Sea turtles wouldn’t return to nest in dunes gleaming in moonlight. Frenzied bluefish wouldn’t blitz their way through menhaden. And then there’s that seasonal beauty.
Come autumn, salt cordgrass glows in early morning light. When this marsh grass turns lustrous yellow its dieback begins. Soon what biologists call biomass will break down into detritus and anchor the sea’s intricate food chain. Marshes’ interplay of sunlight, nutrients, and water combine to produce five to seven times more protein per acre than an acre of Midwest wheat. Our thin green line feeds our bodies and souls, our culture, literature, and sporting annals. And it pleases the eyes.
I can’t decide which is prettier. A summer breeze ghosting over green marsh grass or October’s cool winds ghosting over golden marsh grass but know this. Slack water sends sustenance to the bottom. Then the moon’s tug on marshes and creeks resumes. As tides ebb and flow, water depth changes, plants filter water clean, nutrients swirl about, and diverse species reveal themselves. Estuaries offer ideal habitat to the plants and animals that feed, grow, and reproduce there. And not just there. Look skyward. Estuaries offer refuge for migratory waterfowl.
Estuaries. They’re crucial to life.
Regard our thin green line with reverence. You need it more than it needs you.