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EstuariesAn estuary is a coastal area where fresh water from rivers and streams mixes withsalt water from the ocean Many bays sounds and lagoons along coasts are estuariesPortions of rivers and streams connected to estuaries are also considered part of theestuary The land area from which fresh water drains into the estuary is its watershedEstuaries come in all shapes and sizes each unique to their location and climate Bayssounds marshes swamps inlets and sloughs are all examples of estuaries An estuary is a fascinating place from the largest landscape features to the smallestmicroscopic organisms When viewing an estuary from the air on is practically amazed bydramatic river bends as freshwater finds its way back to the sea The vast expanse ofmarsh grasses or mudflats extend into calm waters that then follow the curve of anexpansive barrier beach Wherever there are estuaries there is a unique beauty As riversmeet the sea both ocean and land contribute to an ecosystem of specialized plants andanimals At high tide seawater changes estuaries submerging the plants and flooding creeksmarshes panes mudflats or mangroves until what once was land is now waterThroughout the tides the days and the years an estuary is cradled between outreachingheadlands and is buttressed on its vulnerable seaward side by fingers of sand or mud Estuaries transform with the tides the incoming waters seemingly bringing back tolife organisms that have sought shelter from their temporary exposure to the non-aquaticworld As the tides decline organisms return to their protective postures receding intosediments and adjusting to changing temperatures The community of life found on the land and in the water includes mammals birdsfish reptiles shellfish and plants all interacting within complex food webs Flocks ofshore birds stilt through the shallows lunging long bills at their abundant prey of fishworms crabs or clams Within the sediments whether mud sand or rocks live billions ofmicroscopic bacteria a lower level of the food web based largely on decaying plants Estuaries are tidally-influenced
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