BRACK: Rising tides from ocean will produce sticky, oozy pluff mud

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher  |  Ever heard of “pluff mud?”  We had not. Turns out it’s a term describing that brown-gray, sticky and oozy mud with its distinctive smell that can be found in tidal and grass salt flats.

The term is long associated with the Lowcountry of the Carolinas; it even has a local beer named for it, though in reality, we can’t see that as a positive marketing name. You can even detect the similar odor in the far reaches of New England, or anywhere ocean tides swell.

People across those hurricane areas in recent weeks have felt the impact of pluff mud, in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico or wherever rising tides have flooded an area. You often can tell how high the rising waters came from the horizontal line that the tide leaves on homes or walls. Anywhere below that line means that pluff mud effects are present.

After all, water in the tide has in it many different sea organisms, some very tiny, that often remain after the tide leaves, clinging to buildings, cars, the undersides of porches, street lights, or any other item that the water touched. And that means that these organisms, some of which need to be in water to survive, die….and then rot, which produces the strong odor associated with pluff mud. Newcomers may not think about an aroma that hurricanes and high waters leave, but are immediately greeted by this when they innocently return to an area. That’s the left over…..the pluff mud, doing its job.

It’s strong….and hangs around and around and around.

It’s essentially pluff mud that you smell during ordinary times at the beach when the tide has receded.

Edward M. Gilbreth, writing after the storm recently in the Charleston Post and Courier, described the aroma of pluff mud in this manner: “Quite honestly, it smelled like smoked herring (a great crab and shrimp bait, by the way), which is about as ‘ripe’ a product as can be found in any grocery store — only worse. This is what happens when your property and that of your neighbors’ gets briefly tsunamied by the Atlantic Ocean, with some of the organisms that live in it, and a heaping dose of sticky and gooey pluff mud. It wasn’t any one thing in particular, but a combination.”

Think of how difficult it would be to clean up your area after the waters of the ocean greeted your property in this manner!

Photos by Andy Brack.

Yet if you want to live by the beach, you have to accept that you will take the bad with the good. And anyway, there are many more good days than bad when you live on the ocean.  The tides and the flooding and the winds are all temporary, and though they can cause tremendous stress, and monstrous damage, people who live in seashore areas accept these situations. Of course, they pay higher insurance rates, but accept that, too!

One of the drawbacks to living in such areas is that many peoples’ homes are tucked away from the ocean and beach, and they may seldom go there. Yet they want to live in this certain area of the country, knowing full-well that perhaps even farther inland, they might feel the sprawling effect of the ocean and the tides.

And pluff mud, our new term of the day. We’ve smelled it before, but didn’t know that there was a distinctive term for that aroma.