Imaging/Video by Abigail Winn
Words by Morgan Krakow
Cool water glides against silky mud. It is not the painful shock of an ocean current, nor the warm, sunbathed waters of a summer river. Instead, a tolerable cold, refreshing and brisk. The water - neither salty and clear, nor fresh and flowing - runs in channels at shallow depths. A brackish, brown wetland connects ocean and river. Overlooked and overshadowed by the drama of a Pacific wave and the enticing recreation of a Northwest River, the estuary sits in between.
But this middle ground is no static place. Rather, the dynamic mixing of ocean and river creates an ecosystem that is vital for biological well-being along the coast. Humans, animals and plants alike all hold important ties to this place.
Along Coos Bay sits the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve – the first of its kind. It connects the Pacific Ocean to a network of creeks and streams further inland. It is always changing, tides rushing in and out beneath the surface, bearing mudflats and salt marshes at Low Tide, sliding upwards to cover eelgrass beds at High Tide.
Estuaries play a variety of important roles for the communities that live in and around them. For salmon, an anadromous fish, the estuaries are where they must acclimate to the salty ocean water before heading out into the Pacific. The adolescent fish spend time in estuaries to start getting ready for their sea journeys. For Dungeness crab, juveniles can grow here without the threat of oceanic predators. For humans, besides the inherent beauty of a submerged grassland, salt marshes act in a sponge-like manner, soaking up floodwaters before they reach homes and backyards.