by Youth Ocean Advocate Abby S.
A stroll through the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge follows a pebbled footpath separating lush, grassy fields from a vast brown mudflat. Swallows twitter and dive in flashes of purple and russet over both sides of the path, gliding inches above the mud, and resting briefly on the tips of the tall grasses.
The Refuge is an estuary, where river meets ocean. It was previously used as farmland, but the barriers farmers used to block the saltwater from freshwater for their crops harmed the estuary. The Refuge is now being restored. The fields receive enough fresh water to sustain the grassy, open habitat the swallows prefer, while the mudflat is saltier and home to a variety of different creatures adapted to the changing ocean tides and deep mud.
The estuary’s mudflat appears barren, but a quick glance around hints to its high biodiversity (the variety of species in an area). Bits of shell from shore crabs, clams, and marine snails litter the path. Small shorebirds flock together and peck at the soil; great blue herons wait patiently for their kill; gulls scavenge and squawk while fish, ghost shrimp, and marine worms hide beneath the water and in mud burrows. In other seasons, harbor seals and porpoises, salmon, and California sea lions pay visits.
The Refuge isn’t just a home for hundreds of species. It’s also popular among kayakers, duck hunters, and bird watchers. The amount of biodiversity gives a solid indication of the health of the environment, so when there are more species in an area, the healthier—and therefore more beautiful—the area will be. The Nisqually Refuge wouldn’t be popular recreationally without its beauty, and its biodiversity allows it that.
Several ways we can ensure that the Nisqually Refuge and similar environments thrive are to:
* minimize plastic usage
* research where your food comes from and what farming techniques are used
* keep your distance from marine mammals—do not go within 150 feet on land or sea of dolphins, porpoises, or seals