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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, mainly interesting in 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 (also mud flats, tidal flats, tide flats, etc.) 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.

Mudflats are typically important regions for wildlife, supporting a large population, although levels of biodiversity are not particularly high. They are often of particular importance to migratory birds. 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.

Several especially shallow mudflat areas, such as the Wadden Sea, can be used for the sport of mudflat hiking.

Major example areas

A panorama of the tidal flat at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, at low tide in January 2009.

See also

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