Our landscape is like no other.
Referred to as the “heartbeat” of the Lowcountry, the tide nourishes and revitalizes all the winding, twisting, creeks with cordgrass that define our landscape.
Several aspects of our place make it unique among landscapes. To start with, there is no fresh water of significant size flowing into our tidal waterways. Broad River, in Beaufort, is a finger off the ocean that absorbs the tide. The water in Broad River is nearly as salty as the ocean.
Also, the Lowcountry – so called because of our low elevation – supports large expanses of tidal marshlands.
Dominated by perennial cordgrass (Spartina Alterniflora), the marshes serve to absorb tide and wind and energy from the sea. In fact, cordgrass is the only species of plant that grows in salt water. Beaufort County has more salt marsh than any other county in the state and South Carolina has more salt marsh than any other state in the country.
Finally, Beaufort experiences some of the highest tides along the East Coast south of Maine.
The position of the moon largely influences tidal amplitude – the difference between low tide and high tide. During the full moon and new moon – when the gravitational pull on the earth is the greatest – the tidal range in our area can be 10 feet. These are called “Spring” tides.
As the moon waxes at the 3rd quarter or wanes at the 1st quarter, the gravitational pull on the earth is weakened. During these times, the tidal amplitude averages about six feet. These are called “Neap” tides. Together with the influence of the moon, the concave curvature of our coastline causes the spring tide to be extreme.
During this time of year, the tide flushes wracks of last year’s crop of cordgrass from the marsh and carries it out and onto our beaches, where it forms the foundation of our dune system. On the beaches, these wracks of decaying cordgrass collect blowing sands and, as they continue to deteriorate, provide an essential food source for hungry shorebirds.
Fresh, vibrantly-green grass are bursts from the mudflats. Birding is spectacular as mating pairs impress with resplendent plumage and color. “Chirps” and “twills” and “klacks” create a mesmerizing symphony and the aroma of the rich and revitalized habitat permeates the air.
By Capt. Patte Ranney, Master Naturalist