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General sketch-map of a tidal plain, showing the typical tripartition in supratidal, intertidal and subtidal zones. The most apparent character of the area is the development of tidal channels, affecting mainly the intertidal zone. In this case, the tidal flat is protected seaward by a beach barrier, but in many cases (low-energy waves and longshore currents) the tidal flats may directly pass into a shallow marine environment.

Mudflats or mud flats, also known as tidal flats, are coastal wetlands that form when mud is deposited by tides or rivers. They are found in sheltered areas such as bays, bayous, lagoons, and estuaries. Mudflats may be viewed geologically as exposed layers of bay mud, resulting from deposition of estuarine silts, clays and marine animal detritus. Most of the sediment within a mudflat is within the intertidal zone, and thus the flat is submerged and exposed approximately twice daily.

In the past tidal flats were considered unhealthy, economically unimportant areas and were often dredged and developed into agricultural land.[1] Several especially shallow mudflat areas, such as the Wadden Sea, are now popular among those practising the sport of mudflat hiking.

On the Baltic Sea coast of Germany in places, mudflats are exposed not by tidal action, but by wind-action driving water away from the shallows into the sea. These wind-affected mudflats are called windwatts in German.


Mudflats near Oban on Stewart Island, New Zealand

Tidal flats, along with intertidal salt marshes and mangrove forests, are important ecosystems.[2] They usually support a large population of wildlife, and are a key habitat that allows tens of millions of migratory shorebirds to migrate from breeding sites in the northern hemisphere to non-breeding areas in the southern hemisphere. They are often of vital importance to migratory birds, as well as certain species of crabs,[3] mollusks and fish.[4] In the United Kingdom mudflats have been classified as a Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat.

The maintenance of mudflats is important in preventing coastal erosion. However, mudflats worldwide are under threat from predicted sea level rises, land claims for development, dredging due to shipping purposes, and chemical pollution. In some parts of the world, such as East and South-East Asia, mudflats have been reclaimed for aquaculture, agriculture, and industrial development. For example, around the Yellow Sea region of East Asia, more than 65% of mudflats have been destroyed over the past 50 years.[5][6]


Mudflat sediment deposits are focused into the intertidal zone which is composed of a barren zone, marsh and salt pan. Within these areas are various ratios of sand and mud that make up the sedimentary layers.[7] The associated growth of coastal sediment deposits can be attributed to rates of subsidence along with rates of deposition (example: silt transported via river) and changes in sea level.[7]

Barren zones extend from the lowest portion of the intertidal zone to the marsh areas. Beginning in close proximity to the tidal bars, sand dominated layers are prominent and become increasingly muddy throughout the tidal channels. Common bedding types include laminated sand, ripple bedding, and bay mud. Bioturbation also has a strong presence in barren zones.

Marshes contain an abundance of herbaceous plants while the sediment layers consist of thin sand and mud layers. Mudcracks are a common as well as wavy bedding planes.[7] Marshes are also the origins of coal/peat layers because of the abundant decaying plant life.[7]

Salt pans can be distinguished in that they contain thinly laminated layers of clayey silt. The main source of the silt comes from rivers. Dried up mud along with wind erosion forms silt dunes. When flooding, rain or tides come in, the dried sediment is then re-distributed.[7]

Selected example areas[edit]

Mudflats in Brewster, Massachusetts, United States, extending hundreds of yards offshore at the low tide. The line of seashells in the foreground indicates the high-water mark.
Gulls feeding on mudflats in Skagit Bay, Washington.


  1. ^ Dredging Indian River Lagoon Wetlands 1920 - 1950s
  2. ^ Tidal flat habitats
  3. ^ Mud crab (Scylla serrata) culture in tidal flats with existing mangroves
  4. ^ Manko - Tidal Flat, Mangrove Forest
  5. ^ MacKinnon, J.; Verkuil, Y.I.; Murray, N.J. (2012), IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea), Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 47, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN, p. 70, ISBN 9782831712550 
  6. ^ Murray, N.J.; Clemens, R.S.; Phinn, S.R.; Possingham, H.P.; Fuller, R.A. (2014), "Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea", Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12 (5): 267–272, doi:10.1890/130260 /
  7. ^ a b c d e Reineck, H.E, and I.B Singh, Deposistional Sedimentary Environments, 2nd Ed. New York: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 1980, pp. 418-428

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudflat — Please support Wikipedia.
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822 news items

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:26:15 -0700

Dates and times have been announced for the Mudflat Mania tours on Brewster sand flats led by naturalists from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. Nets, pails, water, sunscreen and the “Mudflat Mania! Guide Book,” can be purchased through the ...


Sun, 05 Jul 2015 09:07:30 -0700

At Long Key State Park at MM 67.5, you can explore mangrove swamp, mudflat, rockland hammock, beach and coastal berm habitats. At low tide, the Roseate Spoonbill may be spotted dipping its round-tipped bill into the shallows searching for a meal ...

The Bellingham Herald

The Bellingham Herald
Thu, 11 Jun 2015 17:22:30 -0700

Mudflat Safaris are during minus tides from 10 a.m. to noon July 1, noon to 2 p.m. July 17, 12:30-2:30 p.m. Aug. 4, and 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 28. Guides will lead a limited number of participants into the eelgrass meadow, which is exposed during extreme ...
Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:03:45 -0700

Formerly known as the California clapper rail, the Ridgway's rail isn't just dependent on salt marshes in general: it requires a certain configuration of salt marsh, namely edges -- "ecotones," in the jargon -- between cordgrass and mudflat or slough ...

Muncie Star Press

Muncie Star Press
Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:29:49 -0700

"From early on in the project process people in Yorktown have been concerned about it being a mudflat during dry years," said Chad Pigg. A low head dam has been proposed to give a static level of water, potentially as high as 4-6 feet deep. The ...
Audubon Magazine Blog
Sat, 20 Jun 2015 09:41:45 -0700

A Curlew Sandpiper meandered slowly around the mudflat—out of season here, and a bonus bird for Spain. I'm not sure whose smile was bigger, Nacho's or mine. Seconds later, he got a text message and suddenly pulled us down the trail to another blind at ...

Condé Nast Traveler

Condé Nast Traveler
Tue, 23 Jun 2015 09:13:58 -0700

But the remarkable approach alone—on a causeway that traversed the Watt, a tidal mudflat which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique bio-diversity—made me wonder if Sylt is famous for all the wrong reasons. The feeling was confirmed ...

LA Magazine (blog)

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Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:09:30 -0800

The swampy mudflat now known as Balboa Island was once part of Los Angeles County, though not good for too much—that is, until the enterprising McFadden brothers, James and Robert, bought it (along with much of the ocean front of Newport Beach) and ...

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