Saltmarshes are recognised as ecosystems with high ecological values. They are productive, impressive agents of carbon storage and have a positive impact on water quality entering estuarine waters. These habitats also play a significant role in estuarine food webs as well as provide habitats and roosting sites for many species of birds including migrating waders. Research has also shown that these habitat areas are utilised by many species of fish and crustaceans including many commercial species.
Saltmarsh systems are dynamic and interact with mangrove forests and terrestrial systems including casuarina and melaleuca forests. Their distribution is based on a number of interacting agents including sea levels, ground water, weather and vegetation. They are complex systems.
Saltmarsh habitats are located in flat areas which receive regular but infrequent tidal flooding. Usually this flooding occurs during king and spring tides. In sub-tropical regions they are generally located on the landward side of mangrove forests. Saltmarsh areas generally have high levels of salinity and low levels of oxygen in their soils due to evaporation, sea water and the lack of agitation by tidal movements. This is an extreme environment where plants are especially adapted to cope. In some areas the conditions are so extreme that there are no plants at all.
Saltmarsh areas are characterised by a mosaic of salt pans, marine couch, samphires and sedges. The maximum height of this vegetation usually ranges between 10 and 30 cm. Saltmarsh areas are often devoid of any shrubs or trees except along the occasional gutter or creek where mangroves can establish themselves.