Salt marshes line the leeward side of barrier islands and are often called an estuary. Estuaries serve as a nursery to most of the nearshore creatures of the ocean, and feed many of the mammals and birds that live on the coast. The estuary also acts as a sponge and filter to keep our waterways clean. Because it serves as the foundation for the marine food chain, the estuary is a vital part of ocean ecosystems. The water in an estuary is brackish meaning it is a combination of fresh and salt water. The tides flood the estuary every six hours, which stirs up bottom nutrients that feed shellfish. As the tide recedes, it carries those nutrients out to offshore areas where it continues to supply organisms with food. At low tide, the estuary becomes an excellent feeding ground for upland animals. The animals and plants that live in the estuary must be very hardy because they have to deal with the tidal currents, changing salinity and large quantities of silt dumped at the mouth of creeks and rivers. Enjoy your stroll through this beautiful habitat and really look and listen to the animals and plants that make their home here.
The BHI Conservancy monitors the salt marshes that border Bald Head Creek. Weekly water quality measurements have been taken since May 2010. The Conservancy also participates in the Oyster Spat Monitoring Program sponsored by UNC Wilmington. This program is a community based effort to determine the health of oyster populations throughout the state by monitoring spat (larval oysters) recruitment on specially designed 'racks'. The BHI Conservancy maintains three test locations in Bald Head Creek and submits the data to the Oyster Spat Monitoring Program's website. Finally, the Conservancy leads Bald Head Island's effort to recycle oyster shells and place them back into Bald Head Creek to improve oyster habitat. Oysters are filter feeders and their presence improves water quality. This program is sponsored by the Marine Fisheries Division of NCDENR.