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March 2018                                                                                                                                                                              www.tbep.org
Water Clarity Meeting Goals in 3 of 4 Bay Segments
Old Tampa Bay remains in a "caution" advisory for third year 

Old Tampa Bay continued to lag behind other bay segments in water clarity in 2017, likely due to persistent blooms of a nuisance algae  that has recurred there every year for a decade.

The annual "stoplight" report card prepared by TBEP shows that all four major bay segments had sufficient sunlight penetrating to the bay bottom to foster the growth of underwater seagrasses.  Ho wever, Old Tampa Bay again failed to meet its average annual target for chlorophyll a, an indicator of microscopic algae in the water. Chlorophyll targets were exceeded in 8 of 12 months in 2017, a timeframe generally associated with blooms of the potentially toxic algae Pyrodinium bahamense.  

The other three segments of Tampa Bay had chlorophyll levels that were better than established targets.

Old Tampa Bay includes all bay waters between Tampa and Pinellas County north of the Gandy Bridge. Its yellow "rating" for a third straight year indicates that corrective actions are needed. TBEP and its partners continue to investigate factors contributing to persistent Pyrodinium blooms, and pursue management strategies aimed at improving water quality there. A new project, working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, is underway to see if increasing local shellfish populations (clams, oysters, and other species) could reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) like Pyrodinium.

"The 2017 results for Old Tampa Bay reinforce that we need to expand and explore new options to reduce the potential for future algal blooms in this bay segment," said TBEP Executive Director Ed Sherwood. "This includes ramping up our traditional approaches to curtail nutrient inputs from all sources in the watershed, while also considering the implementation of new actions that enhance circulation, increase flushing and supplement biologic controls such as filter-feeding oysters and bivalves."  

Improving water quality throughout the bay has been critical to a nationally recognized recovery of seagrasses that are the foundation of a healthy Tampa Bay. Seagrass estimates released by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in 2016 showed that Tampa Bay had 41,655 acres of seagrass, more than at any time in the last 60 years. New estimates, based on aerial photos reinforced by field verification, are expected in early 2019. 

To help track seagrass recovery, TBEP annually compares water quality to established targets in the bay and summarizes the results in a simple report card with a red, green and yellow color system. The rating system considers two factors: The amount of chlorophyll in the water, and the amount of visible sunlight penetrating the water column. "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.

The water quality sampling may not detect short-term or locally specific water quality impacts. However,  t he combination of water quality and seagrass information gives bay managers a valuable set of tools to assess the bay's overall health, tracking long-term progress in restoring the bay and serving as an early-warning system for potential problems. 

The data used for the report card is collected monthly by the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, from 45 sampling stations all over the bay. Analysis methods and open-source code to reproduce the assessment can be found here. 

Click here for a 2-page graphic summary of the results, including segment-specific measurements of light attenuation and chlorophyll
a concentrations.
The next SWFWMD seagrass coverage estimates will be developed from aerial photographs acquired over the winter 2017/18 period.                            

Monitoring station for ocean acidification deployed
Equipment to help scientists explore role of seagrasses in 
shielding marine life from climate change impacts

A new monitoring station in Tampa Bay will help scientists better understand the role of seagrasses in shielding marine life from the effects of ocean acidification.

Bucking global trends, pH levels in Tampa Bay are going up instead of down, an anomaly that research led by the U.S. Geological Survey links to the bay's expanding seagrass meadows. The high rate of photosynthesis found in seagrasses may serve to buffer changes in ocean chemistry that affect hard-shelled organisms most vulnerable to acidity caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.    

About one-quarter of the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned winds up in the ocean. As pH levels drop in response, the shells and skeletons of corals, mussels, clams, scallops, oysters and crabs can literally dissolve. This phenomenon has been  dubbed "osteoporosis of the sea." However, scientists suggest, abundant seagrasses may serve as a climate change refuge for hard-shelled organisms. 

The new monitoring station installed near Port Manatee will help researchers better understand pH trends and the potent ial mitigating benefit of healthy seagrasses. Sensors and sampling gear on the station will measure dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and salinity.

The station is a partnership between TBEP, the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, and the USF College of Marine Science. Another station is slated for installation in nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters to tease out local trends from broader regional trends.

Read TBEP's Climate Change actions in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Tampa Bay.

Salty Topics: What Lives in Tampa Bay's Hard Bottom Habitats

Thursday, March 8
7:00-8:00 PM
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center
1800 Weedon Dr. NE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33702
Free! Please register here

An FWC fisheries scientist prepares to deploy a video camera unit equipped with a bait cage to lure fish close enough for filming.
Learn about the diverse world of natural and artificial reefs in Tampa Bay from a fisheries researcher who led an innovative study using sonar mapping and compact video cameras to spy on fish living in these rare "hard bottom habitats."

Principal researcher Kerry Flaherty-Walia will talk about t his ongoing project to characterize what lives in these scarce bay habitats, which include limestone ledges,  fossilized coral outcroppings and artificial reefs. These areas, mostly found in lower Tampa Bay where water clarity is best, are often colonized by colorful sea whips, sponges and corals most people associate with the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.

The work, c onducted by  FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute with an $80,000 grant from the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund ( see related article below), provided the first detailed look at  fish communities associated with natural and artificial hard bottom habitats.  Flaherty-Walia's team deployed video cameras on PVC frames equipped with bait cages to lure fish into camera range. They are investigating how these fish use the habitats, how that use varies by species and season, and how species use differs between natural and artificial reefs.

In addition to attracting many "usual suspects" such as  reef fish (snappers, groupers, seabass, and grunts) and other recreationally important species like tarpon, snook and sheepshead, the team also documented some surprises -- such as a smooth puffer more typically found offshore.   

The goal of the project is to help bay managers better conserve and enhance these valuable habitats. 

A smooth puffer was among the unusual hard bottom visitors captured on camera.


The deadline to apply for the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund (TBERF) is March 23. 

Approximately $875,000 is available for projects that implement the coastal, estuarine, and freshwater wetland habitat restoration, water quality improvement, research, monitoring, and outreach priorities outlined in TBEP's Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.  Click here for details.

The Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund (TBERF) is an annual competitive grants program managed jointly by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the national non-profit organization Restore America's Estuaries. In the first five years (2013-2017), more than $3.7 million was contributed by 14 public and private sector partners, providing support for 43 projects resulting in :

  • More than 7 acres of oyster reefs created and 1000 oyster domes installed
  • 695 acres of coastal and freshwater wetland restoration
  • 200 acres of seagrass restored
  • 116 acres of coastal uplands restored
  • Florida-Friendly Landscaping, natural resources and nutrient management education
  • Assessment of fish habitat, harmful algal blooms, hard bottom substrate, remote sensing technology, existing habitat value of   dredged holes in Tampa Bay, and carbon sequestration in coastal habitats 
  • Treatment of urban runoff from more than 630 acres of highly urbanized areas
  • Management and protection of waterbird rookeries on 13 Tampa Bay islands

Funding for the 2018 TBERF grants cycle is provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Transportation, the Mosaic Company Foundation, Hillsborough County, the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Tampa Electric Company, and the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. 

Volunteers Travel the Watershed to Make A Difference for Tampa Bay

In late February,  44 volunteers turned out to push, drag and yank several tons of debris from the Rock Ponds habitat restoration site on the border of Hillsborough and Manatee counties. Plastic bottles were the most common item collected. More unusual debris removed included a vintage television tube, a rogue swim buoy, and a headless mermaid.

Volunteers were treated to lunch and a fine view from "Mount Rock Ponds" after their hard work. Special thanks to Keep Pinellas Beautiful for the trash pickers; Hillsborough County  for the canoes; and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for logistical support.

The workday at Rock Ponds was funded through a generous donation from the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation in honor of the late Mark Huntington Pruitt, Crayton's son. Crayton Pruitt was a well-known thoracic surgeon in St. Petersburg. His son, Mark, loved the environment, animals, and the outdoors. Mark was a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law and passed away in an airplane crash in 1986, at the age of 25.

Our hardy volunteers already have transplanted marsh grasses and trees at Perico Preserve, and whacked back invasive plants at Boyd Hill Nature Park and Brooker Creek Preserve. Still to come in our 2017-2018 season are workdays on 
March 17 at Moccasin Lake Nature Park and April 21 at Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. 

Wanna help restore the bay in a personal way? 

Click here to see photos from previous workdays.


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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.