by Youth Ocean Advocate Clara L.
The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1974, is one of the few remaining major estuaries in Washington state. The land was previously used for agriculture, and a dike had been placed to control the flow of the Nisqually River and prevent flooding. In 2009, the dike was removed restoring the historic floodplains along the river and creating salt marsh habitat. The wildlife refuge encompasses a variety of diverse habitats which are crucial to the survival of many species.
Upstream from the Puget Sound, trees surround the Nisqually River, creating a freshwater wetlands which provides home for several species of frogs, ducks, and songbirds as well as mink, beaver and black-tailed deer. As the river approaches the Sound, trees give way to flood lands. Since the dike has been removed, the Nisqually River floods naturally with the seasons. During the fall and winter, heavy rains create seasonal freshwater wetlands, but during the spring the water dries up leaving behind grassy plains.
Next, when the river meets the Puget Sound freshwater and saltwater mix creating an estuary habitat. This region provides crucial food and habitat for salmon fry before they enter the Sound. Ocean tides create salt marshes in this region, areas which are covered by saltwater during high tides, but left exposed during low tides.
This habitat houses many invertebrates including crabs and clams as well as shore birds such as the great blue heron.
Estuarine habitats such as those surrounding the Nisqually River were once common in the Puget Sound, but due to human development, many of them have been destroyed. Because of this, it is extremely important that we protect remaining estuary habitats and continue to restore areas such as the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.