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F e bruary-March 2016                                                                                                                         www.tbep.org
 
Record rains drive slight decline in bay water quality in 2015

Two major segments of Tampa Bay showed slight declines in water quality last year, following record-setting summer rains that saw large volumes of untreated stormwater and wastewater discharged to the bay, 
as well as a recurring algae bloom.

Old Tampa Bay and Middle Tampa Bay - which together comprise 50% of the open waters of Tampa Bay -- failed to meet their average annual targets for chlorophyll- a , an indicator of microscopic algae in the water. They have been designated as yellow, or "caution" areas in the annual "stoplight" report card used by bay managers to help assess the bay's health.
 
Old Tampa Bay had exceptionally high chlorophyll levels for the months of August and September in comparison to previous years for which data is available  (1974-2014).  Middle Tampa Bay had chlorophyll concentrations that were higher than normal in September.
 
The "caution" rating means that corrective actions may be needed if water quality problems persist or worsen for two years or more. 
 
All major bay segments had sufficient sunlight penetrating to the bay bottom to foster the growth of underwater seagrasses, a positive sign indicating that the elevated chlorophyll levels in Old and Middle Tampa Bay may be a short-lived, temporary response to the record-setting rains of last summer. An average of 15 inches of rain fell on the region in one two-week period last August, with higher amounts in many places.  
 
Good water quality is critical to recovering underwater seagrasses that are the foundation of a healthy bay. Seagrass surveys announced last Spring showed that Tampa Bay had 40,295 acres of seagrass, more than at any time in the last 60 years.

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, 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 a given year, and bears watching .  
 
Prior to 2015, all bay segments met water quality goals for three years in a row.
 
The nuisance algae Pyrodinium bahamense was reported in Old and Middle Tampa Bay during summer 2015, and those blooms likely factored into the high chlorophyll levels in the segments. Widespread flooding and emergency discharges of treated and untreated wastewater fueled algae blooms and created murky water for weeks in late summer and early fall 2015.

The data used for the report card is collected monthly by the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, from  sampling stations all over the bay.
 
The next surveys of seagrass in Tampa Bay are due in Spring 2017 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  Aerial photography is underway this winter, since visibility and water clarity are best in winter months.

Click here for a Fact Sheet on the 2015 Water Quality Assessment. 
   
                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                   
Pasco County Joins TBEP Partnership   
 
Pasco County has joined the TBEP partnership, marking the first addition to TBEP's Policy Board since the Program's formation in 1991.

As a formal member of our Policy Board, Pasco will pay member dues like our other major local partners (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Clearwater, St. Pete, Tampa and SWFWMD) and have a seat on both our Management and Policy Boards. The dues are based on percentage of the population within the Tampa Bay watershed  -- $22,415 for Pasco County in the coming year.
Commissioner Jack Mariano is Pasco County's representative on our Policy Board.

The invitation was suggested by our Policy Board during a strategic planning workshop in 2104. It took considerable time to lay the groundwork, but Pasco's membership was approved by the Policy Board last week. Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano now joins our Board. 
 
The addition of Pasco makes sense, said TBEP Executive Director Holly Greening, since the challenges facing the bay increasingly require regional cooperation and solutions. And the additional membership dues will assist TBEP in leveraging funds, including federal grants, to im plement management, research and education projects that benefit the bay. 

Greening also noted that TBEP has provided an impressive "bang for the buck" for its local partners over the years.
 
"Since we currently provide an average of $57 back to our local partners for every $1 they give us, our local partners have considered the Estuary Program a good investment, and we hope Pasco will feel the same," she said.
The Green Swamp, pictured here, and the Withlacoochee River form the headwaters of Tampa Bay's largest tributary, the Hillsborough River.
 
   
 
                                                                                                                   
Updates Continue to Tampa Bay Management Plan: 
Join The Conversation!
 
We are continuing to update our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Tampa Ba y, called " Charting The Course ." Final drafts of actions addressing Bay Habitats, Toxics and Public Health are posted at tbeptech.org along with actions previously approved by our Policy Board. Comments on any of the draft actions may be sent to nanette@tbep.org.
  
New Action Plans are being developed for review quarterly. The final document, slated for adoption in early 2017, will guide bay restoration, research and education efforts for the coming decade.
 
Your input is important to ensure we make meaningful and measurable progress in improving Tampa Bay. We look forward to hearing from you!  
 
TBEP Welcomes New Staff Member 
 
Gary Raulerson at Wekiva River Aquatic Preserve.   
Photo: Barbara Howell, Rock Springs Run  
Please join us in welcoming new TBEP staff member Gary Raulerson, who joined our hard -working crew of  six in February.  As our new Technical Projects Coordinator, Gary will be managing a variety of grant projects, including BP Gulf Oil Spill funds awarded to us through the federal RESTORE Act. Gary formerly worked for the state's Aquatic Preserve program, and as Assistant Director of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve near St. Augustine.   He also served as the program scientist for our sister NEP in Sarasota Bay several years ago.  Gary received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky and Louisiana State University.  
 
We're glad to have you aboard, Gary!                                                   
 
Flatbreads for Fish
St. Pete Restaurant Donates $1 from Sales of Chef's Creation to TBEP

Now you can eat well and support our efforts to restore Tampa Bay! Order the Green Springs Bistro flatbread from The Lure, an eclectic new restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg, and we'll get $1 from the sale.

The Lure's owners asked area chefs to create specialty flatbreads for their new eatery, and designate local charitable organizations to receive a portion of the proceeds. Chef Paul Kapalis, of the Green Springs Bistro in Safety Harbor, donated the recipe for a signature flatbread to The Lure, and chose TBEP to
The artsy interior of The Lure, right, and the Green Springs Bistro flatbread 
receive $1 for each one purchased. The flatbread features Vlahotiri cheese and Westphalian ham.

The Lure is located at 661 Central Avenue in St. Pete. Thanks to Chef Tom Golden and owners Richard Alday and Michael Stewart for their generosity!   
 
                                                                                                                       

Give A Day For The Bay                                
Volunteers on the Half Shell
   
A hearty band of 84 volunteers bagged 14 tons of oyster shells at Manatee County's   Robinson Prese rve on December 12.  The bags will be used to create wildlife habitat and prevent shoreline erosion at the Preserve. The workday was a joint project of the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay Estuary Programs. 
 
Our next workday will take place at McKay Bay on Saturday, March 19, 8:30 a.m. Volunteers will be helping to remove invasive plants, trash and debris at this urban park in Tampa. Want to join us? Email misty@tbep.org for details. 

We've also created a special Flickr page with photos from our Give a Day events.
 



 
  


Rising To The Challenge 
Project to Track How Bay Habitats Respond to Sea Level Rise

The next phase of a long-term project to monitor the effects of rising seas on important coastal habitats is set to begin this summer. Final sampling in the initial phase took place in February, on land owned by Mosaic on Archie Creek in Gibsonton.

Sites at Upper Tampa Bay Park, TECO's Big Bend power plant, the Little Manatee River and the Manatee River were also part of the first phase. 
The sites are either in public ownership or under a long-term conservation plan.
Renee Dominguez and the rest of the sampling crew pick a path through young mangroves at the Archie Creek site. The project team includes staffers from TBEP, the Fish and Wildlife Commission
 and Atkins Global. 
The Critical Coastal Habitat Assessment is employing a variety of sophisticated methods to detect even subtle changes in elevation and ecological function that could alter plant and animal species. These techniques were field tested at a pilot site in Upper Tampa Bay Park; they include location and elevation surveys that are accurate to less than an inch, and linear transects that span multiple habitats from brackish marshes to upland hardwood hammocks. That work has revealed that mangroves already are encroaching into high marsh - changes that scientists didn't expect so soon.

Four new sites around the bay watershed will be selected this Spring to help paint a comprehensive portrait of how sea level rise and land use changes are impacting critical habitats, such as marshes, mangroves, and coastal forests. The work will help bay managers assess whether rising seas and human activities are impacting some habitats more than others, and develop regional habitat management strategies aimed at preserving the diversity and function of  these essential ecosystems.

The work is jointly funded by TBEP, EPA Region 4, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The first monitoring sites are in relatively pristine areas without mosquito ditching or blocked channels. New sites will reflect more human impacts, and include restored habitats as well. 
 
A variety of data, such as groundwater salinity, fullness of tree canopy and plant and animal species, will be collected every three to five years to compare to the 2015-2016 baseline data.  


                                                                                                                        

TBEP Staff On The Go


TBEP Project Manager Misty Cladas attended a public workshop on microplastics conducted by Eckerd College professor David Hastings in January. Also attending were Community Advisory Committee members David Westmark and Jim Igler. Participants collected and examined bay water samples for the presence of plastic pieces and fibers, and discussed potential solutions to plastic pollution. Dr. Hastings received a TBEP Bay Mini-Grant for his work involving Eckerd students in microplastics research.  
Examining microplastics samples at 
Eckerd College workshop

Our Environmental Science and Policy Coordinator, Lindsay Cros s, is serving on the planning co mmittee for the 2016 class of Leadership St. Petersburg. Lindsay graduated from the intensive program in 2015. 

Lindsay also volunteered in the official Manatee Watch for Tampa's Gasparilla invasion in January. 

Outreach Coordinator Nanette O'Hara presented an overview of Community-Based Social Marketing and the Be Floridian campaign to members of the newly formed Polk County Water Conservation Collaborative in January. Nanette also presented on Social Marketing in February to students in USF's Patel College of Global Sustainability.
 
Executive Director Holly Greening attended the National Estuary Programs' national meeting in Washington, DC in February. Holly also gave presentations to the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and to Leadership St. Pete. 
 
Senior Scientist   Ed Sherwood attended the Snook Symposium sponsored by FWC  in January in Orlando, The symposium invited scientists, anglers and other stakeholders to review data about snook populations in Florida and discuss future management needs.
 
 Ed also judged middle and high school science projects at the Hillsborough County Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Fair in February. 
   
    
                                                                                                                       
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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.