Snails also play crucial role in salt marshes - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Snails also play crucial role in salt marshes

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By Ava Wilhite
awilhite@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- There are other signs the delicate balance of the salt marsh ecosystem is not in balance in parts of the Lowcountry. Die-off or die-back is one visual, but snails are also adding to the slow recovery of the marsh.

One salt marsh owner says the snails don't know what they are doing. 

"They scrape it and then fungus grows in that area. Basically the snails are farming the salt grass, the Spartina grass. Then they come back and eat the fungus, but when the salt marsh is very, very, damaged or stressed then the fungus ends up taking over the grass and it doesn't have a way to recover," said Dale Aren.

Aren says it's not the snails' fault. She adds they are only doing their natural job, but the weak grass can no longer handle the fungus left by the snails.

Part of Aren's backyard marsh is being used for a salt marsh study at the University of Florida. Red flags mark each Spartina grass that's been re-planted. The snails are making a home on not only the replanted grass but the flags that mark the research.

David Whitaker is the Assistant Director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Division. He says there are multiple factors contributing to the die-off like the snails and drought.

Whitaker says once the die-off occurs it will be slow to grow back if it comes back at all.

"You lose that valuable habitat, too. Not only does it feed the animals, but it provides space and location to hide from predators. You jeopardize your shrimp, your crab a lot of the fish would have problems, so it's a real concern if you start losing a lot of marsh," said Whitaker.

Aren says her back yard is on the rebound.

 "You can see that the marsh grass has expanded beyond that and its recovering, we think a lot of it has to do with the rain that we've had," said Aren.

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