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Barrier Islands/Coastal Marshes

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About the Barrier Islands/Coastal Marshes

The Barrier Islands and Coastal Marshes are a narrow region stretching along most of the shoreline of New Jersey and Long Island, NY. The region is broken into several discontinuous pieces; in some areas of New Jersey other regions extend directly to the coast.

The terrain consists of beaches, sand dunes, barrier islands, and extensive salt marshes, with some freshwater marshes at the mouths of rivers and along streams. The underlying substrate is sediment from the quaternary period.

Sand dunes here are low in plant diversity, only supporting a few species of grass and other salt- and drought-tolerant plants. As one moves farther inland and on more sheltered sites, the plant growth becomes richer. Moist, protected sites have coastal woodlands consisting of American holly (Ilex opaca), black cherry (Prunus serotina), eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), red maple (Acer rubrum), pitch pine (Pinus rigida), common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). These communities share species and structure in common both with pine barrens farther inland, and similar coastal forest communities farther south.

This area is heavily developed; wetlands have been extensively drained and filled for both housing and industry, and remaining wetlands are often polluted and have a history of past channelization and drainage.

This region is bordered inland by the Pine Barrens in the southern part of New Jersey, north of that by the Inner Coastal Plain, and then on Long Island by the Cape Cod / Long Island region, which not only borders it inland here, but replaces it as one moves northeast along the coast. Moving south along the coast, past the Delaware Bay this region is replaced by the Virginian Barrier Islands and Coastal Marshes, which are similar but somewhat higher in plant diversity due to their milder climate.

This view centering on NJ Route 37, looking east towards the city of Seaside Heights, shows a scene typical of New Jersey's barrier Islands: heavily developed, with only a small amount of wild marshland remaining, and even that land showing evidence of past drainage. Photo © James Loesch, CC BY 2.0, Source.

References

1. Woods, A.J., Omernik, J.M., Moran, B.C. "Level III and IV Ecoregions of New Jersey", (2007) Web.

2. Bryce, S.A., Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Edinger, G., Indrick, S., Vargas, O., and Carlson, D. "Ecoregions of New York (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey (2010) Web.