In the midst of a still developing landscape just south of Portland,
Scarborough Marsh is Maine's largest and best known salt marsh. The
3,100 acre Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area, owned and managed
by the State of Maine, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,
includes approximately 2,700 acres of salt marsh, five tidal rivers,
several smaller streams, some coastal freshwater marsh, tidal flats,
and less than 200 acres of upland habitat.
The Scarborough Marsh is a regionally
and internationally significant resource.
The Scarborough Marsh accounts for 15% of the state's total tidal
marsh area, making it the largest contiguous marsh system in
the State of Maine. Salt marshes are one of the rarest habitat types in Maine,
consisting of less than 19,000 acres (or less than 0.01% ) of Maine's
acres. Salt marshes account for only 0.4% of Maine's entire wetland
The Scarborough Marsh is valued and enjoyed by tens of thousands
of people each year. The marsh supports a variety of human activities,
including canoeing and kayaking, bird watching, clam digging and
fishing for fun or for profit, and hunting. The open skies, grassy
coastal vistas, and changing waterlevels appeal to many, and the
play of light and shadow challenges painters and photographers alike.
Scarborough Marsh offers naturalists and schoolchildren an ideal "outdoor
People have recognized the marsh's value for many
thousands of years. Early inhabitants harvested birds, fish, and
shellfish; later settlers also depended on the marsh for livestock
the marsh is still a valuable component of the region's commercial
fishing and tourism industries.
Tidal marshes are highly productive
ecosystems, providing breeding and feeding habitat for numerous
plants and animals.
72% of water-dependent birds identified statewide were found at Scarborough
Marsh, according to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and
Wildlife; furthermore, recent statewide surveys by MDIFW biologists
at 53 salt marshes indicate that Scarborough Marsh has the highest
diversity of water-dependent bird species found in any of Maine’s
The USFWS confirms that the marsh provides high value habitat
for 27 endangered, threatened, rare or declining bird species in Southern
Maine and that all 43 species of endangered, threatened, declining,
and/or rare trust resources (including both plants and animals) inhabiting
coastal Southern Maine. The marsh plays a key role in the recovery
of peregrine falcons and bald eagles which visit the marsh to forage
Scarborough Marsh is located within 1.5 miles of two nationally significant
seabird nesting islands, including Stratton Island just off Prout’s
Neck, several beaches which support breeding birds, and several sizable
parcels of land owned and protected by the Scarborough Land Conservation
Trust. Nesting roseate terns from Stratton Island, which plays an important
role in the survival of nearly all roseate terns in the Northeast,
forage for food in the Marsh. Because Scarborough Marsh provides documented
foraging habitat for piping plovers and least terns, it has been designated “essential
habitat” for these endangered shorebirds.
Scarborough Marsh’s tidal rivers and streams, salt marsh, pannes,
and mudflats support commercially, recreationally, and /or
ecologically valuable fish and shellfish including soft-shelled clams, sea worms,
alewives, striped bass, smelt, sea run brook trout, and eel. The marsh
also protects high value habitat for shad, river herring - alewives,
blue black herring, and winter flounder.
Tidal creeks and pannes in the high marsh provide habitat for silversides
and mummichogs which are key prey species for waterfowl and wading
birds. The Scarborough Marsh supports the greatest number of
shorebird and wading bird species statewide. Biological surveys confirm that
black duck, blue-winged and green-winged teal, and wood duck nest in
the marsh area. The marsh is also an important seasonal habitat for
migrating species, including the black duck which have declined dramatically.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has designated Saco Bay as “essential
fish habitat” for Atlantic salmon; pollock; whiting; hake; winter,
yellowtail, and windowpane flounder; American plaice; ocean pout; halibut;
sea scallop; sea herring; bluefish; and mackerel. With five major tributaries,
the Scarborough Marsh flows into Saco Bay, and the high concentrations
of herring, hake, and sand lance in Saco Bay depend directly on the
delivery of clean and nourishing waters from the marsh.
Tidal marshes fulfill important natural functions.
Tidal marshes form in low-lying coastal areas that are sheltered from
strong winds, waves, and currents. Nourished by tidal flows and with
rapidly growing grasses, salt marshes form the basis of a highly productive
food web. They are complex natural systems which support different
plants and animals in a variety of habitats.
In addition to nourishing many species of birds, finfish, shellfish, and invertebrates, marshes
buffer upland shorelines against erosive actions of open water, protect low-lying
uplands and shorelines during storms, and maintain water quality.