Why Is Tybee Island Water Brown? An In-Depth Explanation

If you’ve ever visited the beaches of Tybee Island, Georgia, you may have noticed the ocean water has a brown, tea-like color rather than the sparkling blue-green hues typically associated with coastal waters.

This unusual watercolor has left many beachgoers wondering—why is Tybee Island water brown?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Tybee Island’s water is brown primarily due to tannins that leach into the water from decaying marshgrass in the surrounding salt marshes and tidal rivers.

The combination of the tannic tea-colored water from the marshes mixing with the clearer ocean water results in the brown colored water around the island.

Georgia’s Coastal Environment Contributes to Brown Water

One of the reasons why the water around Tybee Island appears brown is due to the unique coastal environment of Georgia. The combination of salt marshes, decaying marsh grass, and ocean currents play a significant role in the coloration of the water.

Salt Marshes Surround Tybee Island

Tybee Island is surrounded by expansive salt marshes which are a vital component of the coastal ecosystem. These marshes are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species and act as a natural filter for water. However, the presence of salt marshes can contribute to the brown color of the water.

When it rains, the runoff from the marshes carries sediment, organic matter, and tannins into the water, giving it a brownish hue. Tannins are natural compounds found in plants, and they can tint the water brown or yellowish.

While this may affect the water’s aesthetic appearance, it does not necessarily indicate pollution or a health hazard.

Decaying Marsh Grass Releases Tannins

Another factor contributing to the brown water around Tybee Island is the decaying marsh grass. As the grass decomposes, it releases tannins into the water. This process is a natural part of the coastal ecosystem and helps to enrich the surrounding environment.

The tannins released by decaying marsh grass are responsible for the tea-like color of the water. These tannins are organic compounds that are not harmful to human health, and they play an essential role in the coastal ecosystem by providing nutrients and supporting aquatic life.

Ocean Currents Mix Tannic Water with Clearer Offshore Water

The ocean currents around Tybee Island also contribute to the brown color of the water. These currents mix the tannic water from the marshes with clearer offshore water. As a result, the color of the water can vary depending on the tides and the strength of the currents.

It’s important to note that despite the brown color, the water around Tybee Island is generally safe for swimming and recreational activities. The water quality is regularly monitored by local authorities to ensure the safety of visitors and residents.

For more information about the coastal environment of Georgia and the factors influencing the water color around Tybee Island, you can visit the official website of Tybee Island or the Georgia Aquarium.

Seasonal Differences in Water Clarity and Color

Tybee Island is known for its stunning beaches and beautiful coastal waters. However, visitors and locals may notice a difference in the clarity and color of the water depending on the time of year. This can be attributed to various factors, including the influx of clear water during winter storms and the browning of the water during summer low-tide periods.

Influx of Clear Water During Winter Storms

During the winter months, Tybee Island experiences occasional storms that bring heavy rain and strong winds. These storms can cause a significant influx of clear water into the coastal area. The rainwater washes away sediment and other particles, resulting in clearer and less turbid water.

This phenomenon is temporary and usually lasts for a few days after the storm has passed.

According to a study conducted by the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the clarity of the water off the coast of Tybee Island significantly improves after a winter storm.

The study found that the water clarity increased by an average of 30% compared to normal conditions. This is due to the flushing effect of the storm, which brings in fresh, clear water from offshore.

Browning During Summer Low-Tide Periods

During the summer months, Tybee Island experiences low-tide periods, which can result in the water appearing brown or murky. This is primarily caused by the sediment and organic matter that gets stirred up from the bottom of the ocean floor.

As the water recedes during low tide, it exposes the sediment and allows it to mix with the water, giving it a brownish color.

Low-tide periods are a natural occurrence and can happen twice a day. While the water may appear brown during these times, it is important to note that it does not necessarily indicate pollution or poor water quality.

The sediment and organic matter are a normal part of the coastal ecosystem and play a vital role in supporting marine life.

It is worth mentioning that the water quality on Tybee Island is regularly monitored by various organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Their findings consistently show that the water meets the required standards for swimming and recreational activities.

Is Tybee’s Brown Water Safe for Swimming and Sea Life?

One of the common concerns among visitors to Tybee Island is the brown color of the water. However, it is important to note that the brown color is primarily caused by tannins, which are organic compounds that originate from decaying vegetation in rivers and marshes.

While the brown water may not appear visually appealing, it does not pose any significant risk to humans or sea life.

Tannins Do Not Pose Risk to Humans

Contrary to popular belief, the presence of tannins in the water does not indicate contamination or pollution. Tannins are naturally occurring substances that are found in many bodies of water around the world.

They are harmless to humans and do not pose any health risks when swimming or engaging in water activities. In fact, tannins are often found in natural water sources and are even used in some cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.

It is important to note that the brown color of the water does not indicate poor water quality or the presence of harmful bacteria. Tybee Island’s water is regularly monitored by the local authorities to ensure its safety for swimming and recreational activities.

Provide Shelter and Food Sources for Marine Ecosystems

The presence of tannins in Tybee Island’s water actually benefits the marine ecosystems in the area. Tannins provide shelter and food sources for various marine organisms, including fish, crabs, and shrimp.

These compounds create a rich and diverse habitat that supports the growth and survival of many species.

The brown water acts as a natural filter, trapping particles and nutrients that contribute to the overall health of the marine ecosystem. It helps maintain a balanced ecosystem by supporting the growth of phytoplankton, which is the foundation of the food chain.

In turn, this sustains the populations of larger marine animals, such as dolphins and sea turtles.

So, while the brown water may not be visually appealing, it is actually a sign of a thriving and healthy marine environment. It is a testament to the natural beauty and ecological richness of Tybee Island.

For more information about the water quality and safety of Tybee Island, you can refer to the official website of the Tybee Island Tourism Council: https://tybeeisland.com.

Protecting the Salt Marsh Ecosystem Is Key

The salt marshes surrounding Tybee Island play a crucial role in maintaining the water quality of the island. These unique ecosystems are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, and their preservation is essential for the overall health of the island’s waters.

Marsh conservation efforts are therefore of utmost importance to ensure that the water remains clear and free from pollutants.

Marsh Conservation Needed to Maintain Water Quality

The salt marshes act as a natural filter, removing pollutants and sediment from the water before it reaches the ocean. The dense vegetation in the marshes absorbs excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause algal blooms and harm marine life.

By protecting and preserving these marshes, we can effectively maintain the water quality around Tybee Island.

Conservation efforts can include controlling stormwater runoff, limiting the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and implementing policies that protect the marshes from development. These measures can help reduce the amount of pollutants entering the water and ensure that the natural filtration system of the marshes remains intact.

Watershed Development Can Negatively Impact Marshes

One of the biggest threats to the salt marshes around Tybee Island is watershed development. When land in the watershed is cleared for construction or agriculture, it increases the amount of sediment and pollutants entering the water.

This can lead to a decrease in water quality and negatively impact the health of the marshes.

It is important for both residents and visitors to be mindful of their activities and the impact they can have on the salt marshes. Avoiding excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, properly disposing of trash, and participating in local conservation efforts can all contribute to the protection of these vital ecosystems.

For more information on marsh conservation and how you can get involved, visit the City of Savannah’s Marsh Conservation website.


In the end, Tybee Island’s characteristic brown water is directly tied to the health and resilience of the expansive salt marshes that surround it. Protecting these fragile ecosystems through conservation efforts ensures that beachgoers can continue enjoying the island’s tea-colored waters for generations to come.

Similar Posts