By: Wendy Langhans
Remember the old saying, “You can never be too rich or too thin”? Well you can be. Too nutrient rich, that is. Especially if you’re a salt-water marsh. Scientists working at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory recently reported  “that nutrients—such as nitrogen and phosphorus from septic and sewer systems and lawn fertilizers—can cause salt-marsh loss.”
They conducted a study  of salt marsh landscapes at Plum Island Estuary in Massachusetts, where for nine years they “added nitrogen and phosphorus to the tidal water flushing through the marsh's creeks at levels typical of nutrient enrichment in densely developed areas”.
According  to Dr. Fleeger from LSU, within “only five to seven years, the edge of the marsh” was “literally falling apart”. He describes two reason for the erosion.
1) The growth pattern of cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) changed. It grew taller above ground but there was less growth below ground. Without the stablizing network of roots, the soil became “more vulnerable to erosion and collapse”.
Salt grass at Ballona Wetlands
2) Because the soil now contains excess nutrients, baterial growth is stimulated, which breaks “down peat and other vital components of the soil at a much faster rate than normal”. This results in a “thinner” soil, which is more easily destabilized.
Pickleweed at Ballona Wetlands
Which just goes to show, when it comes to salt-water marshes, you can also be too thin.
If you would like to visit a local salt-water marsh, I recommend you check out Ballona Wetlands. Located  just north of LAX, Ballona wetlands offers a number of community activities through the “Friends of Ballona Wetlands”. Los Angeles Audubon also offers wetland education programs , targeted especially for students in grades 3-5.
I had a chance to visit Ballona a few weeks ago and I can confirm that it’s well worth the trip.
Slough at Ballona Wetlands
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