Barrier Island Ecology

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is ecology?” It’s the study of organisms and how they interact with their environment. One of the best things about Fire Island National Seashore (FIIS) is the diversity of ecosystems. We have ocean beaches, salt marsh, swale, and maritime forest. Who would have ever thought that much variety existed among the flora and fauna that cover the 32 miles of FIIS.

Fire Island is home to a variety of plants, mammals, fish, shorebirds, etc. An example of an interesting plant on Fire Island is Seabeach Amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus)This federally protected plant grows on the beaches of FIIS. It has fleshy leaves with a waxy cuticle which help it retain moisture in a salty environment. The beach is an entirely different environment for plants and animals. There’s little to no shelter, salt water, and a lot of sun! The plants in this area are well adapted for the salt and sand. The dunes on Fire Island are essential to the survival of the Sunken Forest. The dunes provide protection from the ocean’s salt spray. The salt spray causes the plants to prune and lose their leaves. Some of the most common plants in the Sunken Forest are American Holly, Sassafras, Shad, Catbrier, High Bush Blueberry, and many others. All of these plants have evolved to survive a slightly more saline environment than usual. The forest floor is also the perfect home for box turtles and garter snakes. Fallen leaves are the perfect disguise from predators and humans.

One of my favorite places on Fire Island is the salt marsh! I feel like it’s one of the most valuable ecosystems we have on the island. It plays such a big role in water quality, providing habitat, and commercial industries. Various stages of blue crab and a variety of shrimp inhabit the salt marsh. Many organisms will use the marsh as a nursery for their young. Salt marshes provide the food and safety needed during early life stages for a number of species. Marine fish like flounder and striped bass can find the worms and shellfish they need to grow, and face fewer predators than in open waters. Let’s not forget about our feathered friends here at Fire Island! I feel like it’s a bird watcher’s paradise. There is an assortment of birds all over the island. You can find warblers, herons, ducks, hawks, owls, egrets, and so on. If you ever have the chance to visit,I suggest coming during the bird migration. Since we’re surrounded by so much beauty on Fire Island, I wanted to include some photos taken by park staff over the years. Please enjoy the photos below ?

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