Brackish Marsh

Salsus Palus

The brackish marsh community occupies 2,202 of the refuge’s 8,501 acres and tends to occur on the poorly drained peat soils in the western section of the refuge. Biologically, the marshes serve as important nesting and migrating grounds for numerous animal species at all trophic levels. The vegetation allows for good forage and cover. The marshes are dominated by black needlerush and saltmeadow cordgrass with big cordgrass and seashore saltgrass in substantial quantities. With frequent fires, the black needlerush is suppressed and the other grasses dominate. The black needlerush occurs just above mean high tide in relatively pure stands. Other species found with the needlerush include big cordgrass.


Tidal flooding is rare and usually less than one foot. Tides are generally wind driven with water levels dependent upon wind velocity and direction. Marsh salinity is a function of the salinity of the overlying water (which varies between 2% and 20%), the relative frequency and duration of inundation caused by oceanic overwash, periodic wind-flooding waters, and the rate of flushing through the Currituck Sound. These wetlands are slightly to moderately estuarine intertidal areas that irregularly flood and support persistent emergent vegetation. The Northwest and North Landing rivers and Back Bay have high levels of dissolved oxygen, nutrients, and detritus material that feed Currituck Sound. Coupled with the suspended materials from periodic oceanic overwash, the marsh substrate provides a nutrient-rich area for plants. The marshes of the sound act as buffer strips, protecting the Outer Banks from erosion by waves on the sound side. Without the marshes, the western shore of the Outer Banks would receive the full energy of the waves. The nearly flat marshes allow for large areas to dissipate that energy.

Facts About Brackish Marsh

  • 2,202 Acres
  • Black Needlerush
  • Saltmeadow Cordgrass
  • Seashore Saltgrass