2019 Tampa Bay Water Quality Assessment Results

Living Shorelines and Freshwater Wetlands take Center Stage of Bay Restoration Efforts in 2020

TBEP's Misty Cladas Heads West

Partner Shine: SPC STEM Center at Bay Pines Welcomes New Residents
2019 Tampa Bay Water Quality Assessment Results

With the release of last year’s results comes a new tool designed to help resource managers assess water quality trends in Tampa Bay. 
The annual report card prepared by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) concluded that while all 4 major bay segments had sufficient water clarity to allow sunlight to penetrate to the bay bottom and support the growth of underwater seagrasses, Old Tampa Bay did not meet its average annual target for chlorophyll-a (a measure of microscopic algae in the water column) for the fifth year in a row. 
The elevated chlorophyll concentrations were primarily due to a potentially toxic alga, ​ Pyrodinium bahamense (Figure 1) ,​ which has been able to capitalize on the temperature, salinity, and circulation patterns present in Old Tampa Bay. Bay managers are hopeful that continued efforts to reduce nutrient pollution and recent alterations to the Courtney Campbell Causeway will improve water quality conditions in the struggling bay segment, but they are also investigating how shellfish could be used to reduce the harmful effects of algae blooms. Aided by a new water quality dashboard , area scientists are also keeping an eye on trends in light penetration for that bay segment. Recent observations suggest that the algae blooms may contribute to shading and die-offs of seagrasses in the future, if this pattern persists.
Figure 1
Both average visible light penetration and year-to-year algae abundances are critical water quality indicators in Tampa Bay. The yearly results are compared to established targets and summarized in a simple report card with a red, green and yellow color system. "Green" means a bay segment is meeting both measures of water quality on average over the year, while "red" means it is not meeting either of them. "Yellow" indicates that an area failed to meet either chlorophyll or water clarity targets for the year - which is the case with Old Tampa Bay in 2019 (Figure 2). When water quality does not consistently meet established targets, local resource managers work to address the causes of the decline.

Improving water quality throughout the bay has been critical to the nationally-recognized recovery of seagrasses that is viewed as the foundation of a healthy Tampa Bay. Since surpassing the restoration goal of 38,000 acres of seagrass in 2014, s​eagrasses in Tampa Bay have remained relatively stable. New estimates of seagrass coverage will be available in early 2021. 

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program also unveiled an interactive water quality dashboard that allows bay managers, policymakers, and interested citizens to dive deep into algae abundance and light attenuation trends for each bay segment and at individual monitoring stations. The premier dashboard signals the Program’s acceleration towards developing open science-based data visualization tools designed to support timely, informed, and inclusive decisions for the benefit of Tampa Bay.

“I think we’ll be able to react more quickly and open science plays a big part in that, providing everybody with the ability to look at the real thing and in real time,” noted Tom Ash, General Manager IV of the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County’s (EPCHC) water division. “The EPC is all about decades of data and being able to look back and see those long-term trends, whereas this kind of product lets you see it almost as it’s happening.”

To learn more about open science, email TBEP Program Scientist Dr. Marcus Beck at mbeck@tbep.org
Figure 2
Living Shorelines and Freshwater Wetlands take Center Stage of Bay Restoration Efforts in 2020

Grant Program Provides Nearly 1M for Tampa Bay Restoration Projects.

Managed jointly by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) , the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund is a competitive grants program to address the protection and restoration goals identified in Charting the Course , a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for Tampa Bay. 

Seven proposals were awarded funding in 2020. The projects, including several prominently-located living shorelines and large-scale hydrologic restorations, are expected to bring construction jobs and needed water quality improvements to the region. More information about each project is listed below:
Lake Manatee Watershed Improvement Project ($175,000)
Manatee County will conduct design and permitting work to improve agricultural runoff, restore ecosystem functions, and enhance natural wetland, stream and upland habitats in the North Fork of the Manatee River. The project will address loss and degradation of a first order stream to Lake Manatee watershed, ensuring the sustainability of an important water supply source.

SPC STEM Center Living Shoreline Project ($173,224)
St. Petersburg College will restore the property at the STEM Center to a functional living shoreline. The project will include the removal of vegetative invasives and marine debris; the installation of oysters and native plants, and a boardwalk/dock system to preserve habitat and increase opportunity for student and community research and education.

Treasure Bay Living Shoreline and Water Quality Improvement Project ($173,224)
The City of Treasure Island will construct a functional living shoreline along the waterfront at the Golf/Tennis Center. The project will include public education, removing sections of seawall, installing seawall enhancement features, planting marsh grass, and improving an existing pond (littoral shelves) to enhance water quality prior to entering Boca Ciega Bay.

Redington Beach Stormwater Quality Improvement Project ($28,875)
The Town of Redington Beach will improve resilience and water quality by capturing and treating stormwater runoff before it enters Boca Ciega Bay. The Town will install 1,800 linear feet of infiltration trenches and four tide valves.  

Lower Green Swamp Hydrologic Restoration Project ($171,496)
Hillsborough County will restore hydrology for approximately 87-acres of forested freshwater wetlands in the LowerGreen Swamp Preserve. BMPs (including ditch blocks, wet crossings, and overflow sills) will be installed in the North Pasture. An additional 295-acres of non-forested freshwater wetlands will be restored in West Pasture and South Blackwater as a matching contribution.

Straz Center Living Shoreline Initiative ($100,000)
The Straz Center for the Performing Arts will plan, design, and begin implementation of a multi-treatment living shoreline along 800 linear feet of river waterfront to increase habitat values, cleanse the water column, reduce wave energy, and demonstrate resilience options for the Hillsborough River.

Alafia River Watershed Mined Lands Restoration Plan ($100,000)
Tampa Bay Water will develop a restoration plan for water quality and habitat improvements on historically mined lands in the Alafia River watershed. Project objectives will include assembling a historically mined lands working group; assessing hydrology, water quality and restoration potential; evaluating restoration techniques; and developing conceptual restoration plans for publicly-owned mined lands.
Previous TBERF projects like the Little Bird Key Shoreline Restoration (2019) have helped to fuel the grant’s momentum towards supporting living shorelines in Tampa Bay. Above, The Friends of Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges are seen installing oyster domes to mitigate erosion, provide new substrate for mangroves, create habitat for oysters, fish, and birds and help protect seagrasses .
To date, the TBERF has received over $7.3 million to support 72 projects throughout the Tampa Bay watershed . The success of the Fund is due to the dedication of its public and private sector sponsors
TBEP's Misty Cladas Heads West

This week, TBEP celebrated the retirement and impressive tenure of its current Project Manager, Misty Cladas, well known for her facilitation of the program’s Bay Mini-Grants, Give-A-Day cleanup events, Community Advisory Committee and various other outreach initiatives. 
After 10 years with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Misty joined the TBEP team in 1998 as the Office Manager. Her title changed to Project Manager as her duties shifted focus towards developing and maintaining the Action Plan Database and working with the FDEP and EPC to retrieve discharge monitoring reports. 
Shortly thereafter, the Bay Mini-Grants program and Give-A-Day for the Bay program were passed on to her from the Public Outreach Coordinator, a function she kept running strong to this day.  

For the better part of her 22 years, she and her husband Ron were avid cruise-a-holics, frequently going on two cruises a year, up until they bought the RV they are now readying for an exciting trip to the west coast. She is also the proud mom of two 20-something-year-old girls Haley and Jessica. 
While we're sad to see her go, we're excited to welcome TBEP's new Public Outreach Specialist, Sheila Scolaro. Stay tuned for her introduction in our next monthly Enewsletter.
Partner Shine:

SPC STEM Center at Bay Pines Welcomes New Residents
As of August of 2018, the  St. Petersburg College Bay Pines STEM Center  has been permitted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to receive and provide a home to rescued gopher tortoises (Gopher Polyphemus), one of North America's oldest species.

The 51-acre site provides a suitable habitat for the keystone species, which helps support nearly 400 other species. FWC permit conditions allow up to 10 tortoises on the site. Since the beginning of this year and despite the COVID epidemic, the STEM Center has received its first five rescues through its FWC partnership.

The new additions have wasted no time on getting settled into their new homes, while one new burrow has already been spotted, making a total of four burrows. Just like the tortoises, the STEM Center's waif gopher tortoise program has gotten off to a great start during such an unusual time in history.

Click the picture to learn more.
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About the Tampa Bay Estuary Program

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is an intergovernmental partnership dedicated to restoring and protecting Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary. The TBEP is one of 28 "Estuaries of National Significance" designated by Congress.
Our Policy Board is comprised of representatives from Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties; the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater; the Southwest Florida Water Management District; the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   
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Produced by Joe Whalen
Communication & Outreach Coordinator
Tampa Bay Estuary Program