Where Southeast Alaska's rivers and larger streams meet the sea, it's common to find estuaries. Low-lying flats flooded by the twice-daily high tides, estuaries and salt marshes are mixing areas where fresh and salt water meet. From a boat on the water of the Inside Passage, an estuary may appear as just a strip of green shoreline. A bird's-eye view reveals the true extent of the wetland; often hundreds or thousands of acres are subject to tidal influence.
Life is abundant in these estuaries. Marine worms, small crabs, insects, small clams and shrimp-like crustaceans thrive in the mud and silt, and are eaten by birds, fish and other wildlife. Estuaries are so fertile and productive that they export nutrients to the surrounding areas, enriching the Inside Waters. Kelp, green algae, eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation feed waterfowl and serve as rearing areas for young salmon.
The meadow-like areas above the high tide line are characterized by salt-tolerant plants such as sedges, beach rye and goose-tongue. Sloughs meander through these wetland meadows, filling and draining as the tides change. Sculpin and flounder share these sloughs with salmon fry and three-spine sticklebacks, small fish tolerant of fresh and salt water. Wetlands are like restaurants for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and are year-round home to a variety of birds and animals.
Spruce and hemlock forests border the wetlands. Eagles nest in the trees and bear, deer, weasels, bats, and owls take advantage of the forest/meadow boundaries. Beaver and muskrat favor the freshwater areas, otters and mink work the intertidal zone, and seals move in and out with the tides.