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April 2018                                                                                                                                                   www.tbep.org
Photo of Cockroach Bay tidal wetlands by Donna Bollenbach

Habitat Master Plan Update Underway
Major Effort Will Review Longstanding Goals for Seagrasses, Wetlands 

TBEP is embarking on a sweeping update of the Habitat Master Plan - one that will set targets for habitats not previously addressed, and reexamine the Program's original goals for recovering seagrasses and tidal wetlands.

The $225,000 project is being conducted by ESA-Scheda, with extensive input and review by TBEP's Technical Advisory Committee, the Southwest Florida Seagrass Working Group and other scientific panels. The Habitat Master Plan was last updated in 2010, and is scheduled for completion in late 2019.
Permanent feldspar markers to detect elevation changes were installed at CCHA monitoring sites.

Key elements of the update include:  
  • Setting initial targets for restoring and protecting oyster bars, hard/live bottom, tidal flats, artificial habitats, tidal tributaries and coastal uplands. Sufficient baseline information now exists to establish restoration or preservation targets for these habitats for the first time.
  • Reassessing the baywide recovery goal for seagrasses in light of the implications of sea level rise. The regional goal of restoring 38,000 acres of seagrass was surpassed in 2014, and bay managers now must decide whether to set a higher target or try to maintain the current goal, given pressures from both continued population growth and climate change.   
  • Reevaluating whether the "Restore The Balance" strategy of recovering habitats to their historic proportions in the bay watershed is still valid. This paradigm was adopted as the guiding principle for habitat restoration early in TBEP's history, and has been used as the basis for setting numeric targets for salt marshes, salt barrens, seagrasses and freshwater marshes. Climate change and sea level rise may result in a need to focus on different habitats or restoration efforts.  "We've already seen a shift from salt marshes to mangroves in some areas. With sea level rise, the original 'Restoring The Balance' paradigm may no longer be realistic," said TBEP Ecologist Gary Raulerson.                                                  
  • Documenting the current coverage and extent, as well as historic status and trends, of all critical coastal habitats where data are available, up to the most recent maps and information (usually 2015 or 2016)
  • Creating a Best Management Practices Manual showcasing successful habitat restoration techniques in the Tampa Bay watershed.                                                         
  • Updating the comprehensive list of priority sites and areas to target for future restoration, preservation or acquisition activities taking into account future climate change, sea level rise and coastal development patterns and impacts. This list is used by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, local governments and regulatory agencies to prioritize land for purchase, mitigation or restoration. 
  • Developing detailed management plans for seagrasses and tidal tributaries as keystone habitats with multi-faceted challenges and influences. 
  • Conducting follow-up monitoring at the nine Critical Coastal Habitat Assessment sites scattered throughout the watershed. From 2015-2017, innovative tools and techniques were deployed at these sites to track long-term ecological impacts from sea level rise and climate change. Locations in Ft. DeSoto, Upper Tampa Bay Park, and Cockroach Bay are among the CCHA sites.

Read the action in   TBEP's Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, 2017 Revision addressing the Bay Habitat Master Plan.
Read the current Bay Habitat Master Plan. 

View a training video about the

TBEP Seeking Communications & Outreach Coordinator
Deadline to apply is June 1 

TBEP is seeking qualified applicants for a full-time Communications & Outreach Coordinator position. The successful applicant will have demonstrated experience in science communication and synthesis utilizing a variety of traditional and newer mediums (e.g. print, video, internet-based formats). Primary responsibilities will include managing the organization's website, newsletter, and media presence (social and traditional) to meet programmatic goals and raise regional and national visibility. The position will also require the development and execution of marketing and communications strategies that promote the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, its activities, and build awareness and engagement for protecting and restoring the Tampa Bay estuary. Click here for more information about job duties and qualifications. 

New Index Adds Fisheries to Bay Monitoring Suite
The Fisheries Index assigns a score of A (above 67) to E (below 35) to bay areas based on a variety of factors. Map courtesy FWC-FWRI.
Fish are being added to the list of metrics by which the health of the bay can be routinely assessed and reported to the public. 

Funding from TBEP is supporting the development of a multi-species Fisheries Index for Tampa Bay to track the response of fish communities in the four major bay segments to environmental conditions and changes.  A team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute is developing the Index, using long-term population data from FWC's Fisheries-Independent Monitoring (FIM) program. TBEP's Technical Advisory Committee is reviewing and suggesting revisions.

Overall, Tampa Bay averaged an annual "C" score of 45-52, based on a synthesis of fisheries data from 1998-2015. This score reflects a prolonged Red Tide event in lower Tampa Bay in 2004-2005, and the historic freezes of January 2010, both events that significantly affected fish communities.

Other early observations:
  • The Fisheries Index does not correlate with other environmental variables tested, such as chlorophyll-a concentrations or sea grass acreage.
  • Index scores seem to quickly return to mid-range grades after spikes up or down, suggesting that Tampa Bay fisheries are resilient.   
  • Fish communities in deeper waters may be more stable and less affected by environmental disturbances.
Bay managers alr eady track and report water quality, seagrass recovery and  benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms.  The addition of fisheries as a measurable component will enhance our already robust portrait of the bay, and potentially allow for early detection and response when fisheries populations are threatened by stresses such as oil or industrial spills, extreme cold events, or algae blooms. Researchers caution that the Index cannot definitively link fisheries health in any given year or bay segment to a particular activity or disturbance, but it can identify areas where more research is needed.
The bay anchovy is among the most abundant fish in Tampa Bay.
Estuaries like Tampa Bay are "fish factories" that sustain a multitude of fish and shellfish for all or part of their lives: More than 200 species of fish are found in the bay. Habitats from low-salinity creeks to salty open waters serve as nurseries, foraging areas or migration highways. Fish are an important economic asset, supporting a thriving recreational and commercial industry. In fact, recreational fishing is the most popular water-based activity in the region.

The Fisheries Index will allow each bay segment to be assessed separately so that research and/or restoration recommendations may be tailored to specific segments, as necessary. Researchers also are developing reference conditions, or thresholds, for what is considered healthy vs. unhealthy.

Fisheries sampling crews sorting fish they've collected using seine nets. 
Photo by Gary Raulerson.

St. Patrick's Day Workday at Moccasin Lake Nature Park
St. Patrick's Day Workday at Moccasin Lake Nature Park

Give A Day For The Bay's Next Stop: 
Cockroach Bay on Earth Day

With support from our hardy volunteers and our partners at the City of Clearwater, we had a very successful March 17 workday removing invasive Caesarweed and sprucing up trails and animal enclosures at Moccasin Lake Nature Park. Our workday program now heads to the bay's southeast shore for the final project of the Spring season. 

Sign up now to help us on Saturday, April 21 at Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, in partnership with Hillsborough County's  Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department .    

As usual, we'll give you gloves, lunch and our undying gratitude for helping to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play. As we like to say, we make doing good fun!

Plan to bring a group? Please contact misty@tbep.org so she knows how many to expect.

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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. 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.