Across the bridge and on the other side of the Yaquina Bay, lies the 49 acre site of the Hatfield Marine Science Center for research and education.
Operated by Oregon State University, the Visitor Center is a mini-museum with live marine animals, exhibits, interactive displays, games, and puzzles for exploring ocean science.
Outside is an interpretive estuary trail
that captures our attention not only because we like to walk, but also because Jeff and I are familiar with the term,””estuary” but are hard pressed to define it. So, we go find out.
But first I stop, look at, and snap a pic that calls my name.
Estuaries link ocean and river systems. In other words, salt water and fresh water meet creating a habitat that is an ideal breeding ground for coastal organisms, from shellfish to shore birds, to waterfowl. This nutrient-rich habit is ideal for plants, animals, birds, and fish. (plaque at trailhead)
The picture below shows the 3 components of the Yaquina Bay Estuary, from left to right, the river, the bay, the ocean.
Fresh water from the river mixes with the salty sea in the bay, the transition zone.
The marshes and shrub wetlands provide a home for fresh water fish, wintering waterfowl,
and anadromous fish, such as salmon. Pacific salmon spend part of their lives in the ocean but return to fresh water to spawn and die.
As the tides ebb and flow, salt is deposited in the mud flats created by river runoff.
Below is a picture of the tidal creeks traversing the mud flats.
Organisms that thrive in the mud flats can live in the fine-grained sediments of low tide and can survive the flooding of high tide.
The mud flats are beneficial to many living systems. Humans and shorebirds harvest clams, shrimp, and worms. At high tide fish nibble at the algae and microscopic organisms. Birds frequenting the estuary, in turn, feed off the fish. Benthic creatures, the bottom-dwellers, also play a crucial role in the food chain. (plaque on trail)
The 3,900 acre Yaquina Bay Estuary, located in the heart of Newport, is one of the largest and most important estuaries in Oregon. It is a critical habitat and breeding ground for waterfowl and migratory shorebirds. Unfortunately almost 70% of these estuarine marshes are gone. Efforts to save and restore the wetlands are underway with local, state, federal, and private support. (aquarium.org/exhibits/estuary-trail)