The World of the Salt Marsh is a wide-ranging exploration of the southeastern coast – its natural history, its people and their way of life, and the historic and ongoing threats to its ecological survival.
Focusing on areas from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral, Florida, Charles Seabrook examines the ecological importance of the salt marsh, calling it "a biological factory without equal." Twice-daily tides carry in a supply of nutrients that nourish vast meadows of spartina (Spartina alterniflora) – a crucial habitat for creatures ranging from tiny marine invertebrates to wading birds. The meadows provide vital nurseries for 80 percent of the seafood species, including oysters, crabs, shrimp, and a variety of finfish, and they are invaluable for storm protection, erosion prevention, and pollution filtration.
Seabrook is also concerned with the plight of the people who make their living from the coast's bounty and who carry on its unique culture. Among them are Charlie Phillips, a fishmonger whose livelihood is threatened by development in McIntosh County, Georgia, and Vera Manigault of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a basket maker of Gullah-Geechee descent, who says that the sweetgrass needed to make her culturally significant wares is becoming scarcer.
For all of the biodiversity and cultural history of the salt marshes, many still view them as vast wastelands to be drained, diked, or "improved" for development into highways and subdivisions. If people can better understand and appreciate these ecosystems, Seabrook contends, they are more likely to join the growing chorus of scientists, conservationists, fishermen, and coastal visitors and residents calling for protection of these truly amazing places.
"You can read The World of the Salt Marsh cover to cover, or dip into it at random, but be prepared to get hooked at any point. The Wild Georgia columnist is a most entertaining and knowledgeable tour guide, whether nibbling a saltwort leaf that resembles a 'moist potato chip' and tastes 'great in stuffed crab'; teaching an impromptu lesson on how to wriggle out of quicksand-like 'pluff mud' by 'belly-crawling' across it; or in his description of the imperiled diamondbacked terrapin: 'Imagine a reptile with the dreamy eyes of a golden retriever and the unassuming face of a manatee. Add the docile temperament of a lamb and the beauty of a seashell.'"
- Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"In The World of the Salt Marsh, Charles Seabrook's masterful and comprehensive examination of what remains of these endangered and disappearing wetlands, the native of Johns Island, SC explains why we should be 'appreciating and protecting the tidal marshes of the southeastern coast.'"
- C.F. Foster, Florida Times-Union
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Charles Seabrook, a native of John's Island, South Carolina, is a columnist and environmental writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is the author of Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses and, with Marcy Louza, Red Clay, Pink Cadillacs and White Gold: The Kaolin Chalk Wars.