An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Researchers will study how to best support Florida mangrove and coral reef ecosystems

At a time when developers are cutting down mangroves and building in such a way that's harming coral reefs, scientists will work with community members on solutions and policy changes.

A team of researchers led by the University of South Florida is getting $20 million from the National Science Foundation to develop solutions to protect and replenish coral reef and mangrove ecosystems.

Coral reefs and mangroves safeguard our coasts by reducing flooding, erosion and wave intensity during storms. They also provide habitat for marine life.

Mangroves serve as fish nurseries, and coral reefs help fish hideout, as well. So, in terms of the benefit to biodiversity, these are two really important ecosystems.

But mangroves are removed for development and coral reefs are threatened by pollution and rising temperatures.

Now, USF is collaborating with University of Miami, Boston University, Stanford University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Virgin Islands and East Carolina University to combine natural features with artificial infrastructure to help these ecosystems thrive.

The scientists will look into hybrid models for coral reef and mangrove restoration, such as using concrete or cement to assist in mangrove planting so that they are protected and able to grow.

“If they're degraded systems or systems that have been destroyed in the past, are there ways in which one can restore those areas?” asked lead scientist Maya Trotz, a professor at USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“What would it cost? Who needs to be at the table to make sure that that intervention is protected and at work? How would you design those interventions so that local communities really have a say in what the design look like?”

She said over the next five years, her team will focus on Biscayne Bay in Miami because they want input from diverse community members.

"The idea of working closer with communities and collecting new information: Are there additional things that we should be considering when we start to talk about equity?" Trotz said.

They’ll also spend time analyzing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Complex in Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Workshops and meetings are planned in each location every year for residents to share their experiences and to add their input into conversations identifying solutions.

Although the research will be based out of South Florida and the Caribbean Sea, Trotz said the findings will translate to Florida's Gulf Coast and beyond.

“In Tampa Bay, we have mangroves, we have concerns about sea level rise, we have concerns about flooding and the risks to our properties,” Trotz said. “The lessons learned should be able to apply to any reef-lined or … mangrove-lined coastal system.”

Trotz so far has a team of about 20 but she’s currently hiring to double that number. The project is expected be completed by the end of August 2027.

“I hope that from this study, we have a better way to build research and action within communities to address issues related to protecting their coasts, that integrate nature-based solutions in a more holistic way than is probably done right now,” Trotz said.

“At a time when we're also seeing a lot of developments and a lot of development that is pretty much cutting these mangroves down, and that are building in such a way that they're harming coral reefs … it's sort of like, how do you amplify that importance to developers, and the persons who are part of that development before it's too late when we still do have some of these ecosystems in existence?”

The Little Manatee River is a step closer to receiving a federal ‘scenic’ designation

The designation would help preserve and protect the river from intrusive development, from its source in southern Hillsborough County to its mouth where it enters Tampa Bay.

The Little Manatee River is a step closer to being added to the National Park Service's Wild and Scenic River System.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation sponsored by Congressman Vern Buchanan that would designate the 51-mile river as scenic. Now, the Senate must approve the measure.

The designation would help preserve and protect the river from intrusive development, from its source in southern Hillsborough County to its mouth where it enters Tampa Bay. Recreational activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing would still be permitted.

“Protecting Florida’s beautiful lands and pristine waterways is one of my top priorities,” Buchanan said in a release. “Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will ensure that it is kept in its current, pristine condition for future generations to enjoy."

If the river receives the scenic designation, the National Park Service would develop a management plan that includes ways to preserve the existing natural environment.

Only two other rivers in Florida are recognized under the federal program: The Loxahatchee River near Jupiter and the Wekiva River north of Orlando.

“From canoeing and fishing for bass or panfish upriver to skiing and fishing for various saltwater species downriver, this natural treasure has much to offer in terms of recreation and scenic beauty," Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White said in a release. "I have spent a lifetime enjoying all that this river has to offer and my hope is to see it preserved for many more generations of Hillsborough County residents to enjoy."

Evacuation Zones vs. Flood Zones - Do you know the difference?

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Two different designations for two different purposes

Though they are often mistaken for each other, Flood Zones and Evacuation Zones are two very different things that measure very different conditions. So what's the difference? And when do you use them? Here is what you need to know:

Evacuation Zones

These are the areas that officials may order evacuated during a hurricane. These zones are mapped by the National Hurricane Center and indicate areas that will be affected by storm surge - storm-driven waves that can inundate a community, and threaten lives. Zones in Hillsborough County are identified from A - E, and there are parts of the county that are not in an evacuation zone.

Find Evacuation Information.

Due to significant changes in the evacuation map in 2022, your evacuation zone may have changed or you may be in an evacuation zone for the first time. Please check your evacuation zone.

Flood Zones

These federally identified zones indicate a property's risk for flooding at any time of the year, including as a result of heavy or steady rain. This zone has nothing to do with hurricanes or other emergencies, and everything to do with your property insurance and building requirements. Nationally, these zones are classified as Zones A (Special Flood Hazard Area), B, C, D, V and X. Every property is in a flood zone.

Find My Flood Zone.

Interestingly, a home may be in a non-evacuation zone, but still be in a high risk flood zone because of a nearby pond or stream. Alternatively, a home could be in a low risk flood zone, but still in an early evacuation zone because of storm surge projections or high winds.

That's why it's important to know both your Flood Zone and your Evacuation Zone, and the difference between them. Still unsure?

Here's a helpful guide on when to use which map:

When to check the Evacuation Zone Map

  • Before hurricane season to make sure your family prepared
  • During a hurricane or major storm, to know if you should evacuate
When to check the Flood Zone Map
  • You own, rent, or are buying a new property and don't know if you need flood insurance
  • You refinance or get a mortgage
  • You need building permits for work on your property
  • You live in a low-lying area or near a stream, pond or body of water

Pick it up! Pasco adopts pet waste disposal ordinance

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The Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BCC) passed a new law to improve water quality and raise awareness in our community about the connection between pet waste and keeping our waterways safe and clean. The BCC adopted the new Proper Disposal of Pet Waste law September 20, requiring Pasco pet owners to pick up and properly dispose of their pet’s waste. Violations can result in a $150 fine; however, the initial focus is on education.

“It’s important for everyone to pick up after their pets and help spread the word,” says BCC Chair Kathryn Starkey. “This law will keep our water sources cleaner – protecting public health and safety in the process.”

The ordinance is designed to keep pet waste from contaminating Pasco County’s stormwater management systems and making its way to the lakes and river systems in the county. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has identified specific bodies of water in Pasco that are “impaired” due to bacteria and nutrients. Pet waste contains nutrients that contribute to algae growth in stormwater and natural water bodies.

Details of the new ordinance include:

  • Pet owners must immediately collect and dispose of their pet’s waste
  • Applies to pet waste on any public or private property not owned by the pet owner
  • Law does not apply to people who own pets for disability assistance
  • Law does not apply to agricultural activity
  • In effect in all unincorporated areas of Pasco County

Visit this link to read Pasco County’s Proper Disposal of Pet Waste law: mypas.co/3UjriBP

Pinellas County water system maintenance to start Sept. 25

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The method of water treatment for Pinellas County and its wholesale customers will be temporarily modified between Sunday, Sept. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 15. The second of two short-term changes from chloramine to chlorine disinfection in 2022 is a routine maintenance measure designed to optimize water quality.

Pinellas County Utilities water customers will benefit from this program, as well as customers in the cities of Clearwater, Pinellas Park and Safety Harbor.

The disinfection program is designed to maintain distribution system water quality and minimize the potential for any future problems. There have been no indications of significant bacteriological contamination problems in the system. The water will continue to meet all federal and state standards for safe drinking water.

Kidney dialysis patients should not be impacted but should contact their dialysis care provider for more information about chlorine disinfection and how it affects their treatment. Fish owners should not be affected if they already have a system in place to remove chloramines but should contact local pet suppliers with any questions.

Customers may notice a slight difference in the taste and/or odor of the water during this temporary change in treatment.

Chlorine was used as the primary disinfectant in the water for more than 50 years prior to 2002. Pinellas County switched to chloramine in 2002 to ensure compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards. Many communities using chloramine convert back to chlorine for short periods of time to maintain system water quality.

For more information, please visit www.pinellascounty.org/utilities or contact Pinellas County Utilities Business & Customer Services at (727) 464-4000.

The chlorine maintenance program underscores the county’s strategic goal of protecting and improving the quality of our water.

St. Pete to host public meeting on Northeast Water Reclamation Facility Improvements Project

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ST. PETERSBURG – The City of St. Petersburg will host a public meeting on September 27 for the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility (NEWRF) Improvements Project to allow the public to learn about the project and provide feedback to the City. Everyone is encouraged to attend (e.g., residents, business owners/customers, neighbors, stakeholders, schools, citizens, etc.), and City staff will be available to answer questions.

When:

Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at 6-7 p.m.

Where:

Shore Acres Recreation Center Multi-Purpose Room
4230 Shore Acres Blvd., NE.
St. Petersburg, FL 33703

The Northeast Wastewater Reclamation Facility, located at 1160 62nd Ave. NE., provides essential wastewater and reclaimed water services for the City’s Northeast Service Area. The NEWRF was originally constructed in the 1950s and has undergone various expansions and upgrade projects throughout the years with the last major upgrade around 1980. The NEWRF has a permitted capacity of 16 million gallons per day annual average daily flow. The City of St. Petersburg is in the process of designing major infrastructure improvements to the facility.

The improvements at the facility will not only improve safety, maintenance, and operations, but also enhance reliability, resiliency and sustainability for the facility and the community. The key components of the project include:

  • Upgrading the facility’s electrical distribution system with modern equipment due to its age, deteriorated condition and diminishing availability of replacement parts.
  • Renovating the distribution pump system to increase efficiency and reliability of pumping reclaimed water to our customers.
  • Installing a deep injection well to provide additional capacity for treated reclaimed water disposal during wet weather flows (providing operational flexibility and infrastructure redundancy).
  • Widening the sidewalk along 62nd Avenue for safer and easier pedestrian/cyclist usage.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2023 and be completed within 36 months. Additional project details and project map can be found at stpete.org/NEWRF.

Business owners happy to hear about plans to dredge John’s Pass

MADIERA BEACH – Pinellas County's largest tourist destination, you'll find boat tours, shops, and sand. Captain Dylan Hubbard is Majority Owner and Vice President of Hubbard's Marine. Only one of those is an issue for him.

"Everybody sees the sand, and then what do they do? They come back, and they think it's a beach, and people get out here and treat it like a beach."

Hubbard said it's anything but a beach. One step too far, and you could end up 30 feet below water. That's in addition to strong rip currents.

"Even adults we've seen get swept off this beach, and we countless times have deployed a boat and gone and assisted people. We had those young gentlemen get swept offshore here and one passed away."

Captain Hubbard said his family has fought to dredge John's Pass since 1997.

They finally saw a victory Wednesday night.

At the Madeira Beach City Council meeting, Representative Linda Chaney presented council members with a $1,556,000 check from the state.

Tampa City Council halts any new funding of the PURE water project

TAMPA – The Tampa City Council put the brakes on a project that is looking to repurpose city wastewater.

The council, in a unanimous vote, halted any new funding for the PURE project.

"I don't want to fund this anymore," said Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak. "To me this is it. This is done. If we need to do something different, we'll deal with it in a different way. I don't anticipate approving any more funding for PURE as it stands and to me, that is closing it. I understand legally it's a little different, but to me, it's a closure."

The Purify Usable Resources for the Environment (PURE) project was a proposed water recycling project. The City of Tampa said the project would redirect up to 50 million gallons per day of "highly treated reclaimed water" from the city's Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant that would have been put in Hillsborough Bay.

9M gallons of wastewater bypassed into Manatee River; city says improvements are in the works

BRADENTON – A public notice of pollution was released by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week after nine million gallons of partially-treated wastewater had to be bypassed into the Manatee River. The city said excess amounts of rain overloaded its wastewater treatment plant and left them with no choice. The bypass took place during a ten-hour period beginning Monday night and ending Tuesday morning.

“The water was partially-treated. It goes through three levels of treatment, but the water that went through this week river had been treated twice,” said the city’s communications coordinate Jeannie Roberts.

The bypass came as no surprise to Suncoast Waterkeeper Founder Justin Bloom.

“It is 9 million gallons. That is a lot of partially-treated sewage. I think they do some chlorination to reduce some of the pollutants, but that is a significant impact on the Manatee River. This is what has been happening for the last several summers because their sewage system really needs a lot of attention. That is why we brought a lawsuit last year which we settled quickly with the city because they acknowledge that they need to make some significant investments in their infrastructure and that is what they are doing,” said Bloom.

City officials say the lawsuit helped accelerate improvement projects they already had planned. The city has begun the roughly $20 million process of re-lining the sanitary sewer pipes and manhole pipes city-wide. With the upgrade, the city says there wont be as much ‘seepage’ into the pipes during a heavy rain event, therefore making it less likely that the plant will be overwhelmed.

Tampa wastewater reuse project under fire again

TAMPA – For years, environmentalists and Tampa city officials have sparred over what to do with about 50 million gallons per day of highly treated wastewater currently being dumped into Tampa Bay.

The city wants to divert the wastewater to replenish the Hillsborough River, help lower salinity levels in Sulphur Springs and, possibly, augment the city’s drinking supply.

Opponents say traces of pharmaceuticals or household beauty products could endanger residents and wildlife. And they say the project would be an expensive boondoggle that would increase water bills by up to $67 a month.

On Monday, yet another fight over Purify Usable Resources for the Environment (PURE) began as city officials held briefings with reporters while opponents held a news conference on the banks of the lower Hillsborough River in Sulphur Springs.

Florida scientists will study how homeowners affect the water quality of stormwater ponds

When residents purchase "waterfront properties," many don't realize the function of their nearby stormwater ponds and actually cause them harm by removing plants and mowing the grass too close to the edge.

Florida researchers are tasked with identifying the benefits of stormwater ponds, and how homeowners are interacting with them.

A team of scientists with the University of Florida have been granted $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to study stormwater ponds and the people living around them for the next four years or so across the state. They’ll document environmental, social and economic benefits, collectively called ecosystem services.

“We want to have an ecosystem in there that can function and … reduce that nitrogen and phosphorus from heading out into these natural bodies of water,” Michelle Atkinson, an extension agent in Manatee County for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said. “Are aesthetic preferences impacting those environmental functions? That's what we don't know for sure. We have suspicions. We have our hypothesis, but we want to prove it.”

According to the UF press release, the researchers will conduct field work, focus groups, surveys and data collection both at the state level and in two communities in Manatee and St. Lucie counties that have a large number of stormwater ponds and where algae blooms have been a recent problem. The results could apply to other parts of the country.

Atkinson said she wants people to view these ponds as amenities and put some value to them.

“That’s what we're going to try to do is quantify some of those ecosystem services that our ponds do. By adding plants or managing a different way, can we put a value on those services, something that homeowners will feel important enough to want to protect? And say, ‘yes, let's do this in our community, because it's the right thing to do.’”

She said she hopes management changes come as a result of this study — whether it's voluntary from homeowners, or enforced by government.

Report: Sea level rise will affect the property lines of Florida’s coastal counties

Rising seas will shift tidal boundaries, leading to the loss of taxable properties, according to a new study. This is expected to impact the tax base of hundreds of U.S. coastal counties, with Florida being the state most affected.

A new analysis released Thursday highlights how sea level rise will change private property boundaries along coastal areas.

Using the latest climate models and current emissions data, researchers with Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that analyzes and reports on climate science, have determined that private property owners across the U.S. will lose an area the size of New Jersey by the year 2050.

“By mid-century, more than 648,000 individual tax parcels, totaling as many as 4.4 million acres, are projected to be at least partly below the relevant tidal boundary level,” according to the report. “Of those, more than 48,000 properties may be entirely below the relevant boundary level. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas have the largest number of affected parcels.”

Don Bain, an engineer and senior advisor for Climate Central, said Florida has the most properties that will be impacted — more than 140,000 by 2050.

His team generated more than 250 individual county reports to identify any potential movements of public-private property boundaries. He said the losses will result in less property tax revenue.

Click here to find analysis results in your county

Tampa Bay Water board selects ‘blue’ route for Segment A of new Hillsborough pipeline

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UPDATE: At the request of Hillsborough County, on Sept. 19th Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors selected the “blue” route for Segment A of the new South Hillsborough Pipeline. Segment A is approximately 18 miles long and connects Tampa Bay Water’s regional water treatment plant in Brandon to Hillsborough County’s Lithia Water Treatment Plant.

Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors deferred action on Segment B, which is Hillsborough County’s portion of the pipeline. Segment B will carry water from Tampa Bay Water’s regional system to Hillsborough County’s new point of connection at its future South County Water Treatment Facility.

More information »


CLEARWATER – On Sept. 19, 2022, Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors will consider selection of a route for the new South Hillsborough Pipeline. Two potential top-ranked routes will be presented by Tampa Bay Water’s consultants:

  • The “orange” route is the top-ranked route based on weighting non-cost criteria at 75 percent and project cost at 25 percent.
  • The “blue” route is the top-ranked route when putting a greater emphasis on the cost of the project.

The board was originally expected to select a route at its Aug. 15, 2022, meeting, but delayed the decision to allow Hillsborough County more time to review the engineers’ route studies. The board also expressed concern for impacts to water rates as engineers’ estimates went up approximately 44 percent due to the rising cost of construction materials, labor and property in the Tampa Bay region. Each of Tampa Bay Water’s wholesale customers will help pay for Tampa Bay Water’s portion of the pipeline, and those costs will ultimately be paid by the water customers of Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Tampa Bay Water’s engineering consultants analyzed a total of 10 routes (five northern segments and five southern segments), which resulted in a shortlist of three top-ranked consolidated routes. The routes were evaluated against 11 selection criteria, which included non-cost factors such as public inconvenience, safety, environmental impacts and permitting, as well as project cost.

The new South Hillsborough Pipeline will be approximately 25 miles long, up to 72 inches in diameter and will carry up to 65 million gallons per day (mgd) of additional drinking water to the southern Hillsborough service area. It will start at the Tampa Bay Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant in Brandon, connect to Hillsborough County’s Lithia Water Treatment Plant and end at the County’s new connection point at Balm Riverview and Balm roads.

For more information, go to tampabaywater.org/shp

route map

Health Advisory lifted for Ben T Davis Beach

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The Hillsborough County Department of Healthy tested the water quality at Ben T Davis Beach on Wednesday, Sept. 14th, and bacteria levels are now within safe levels. More information »


Original notice follows:

A health advisory has been issued for Ben T Davis Beach due to high bacteria levels. This should be considered a potential risk to the bathing public and swimming is not recommended. Samples taken were above threshold for enterococci bacteria. The beach will be re-sampled in a week.

When re-sampling indicates that the water is within the satisfactory range, the bacteriological health advisory will be lifted.

About Health Advisory for High Bacteria Levels

An advisory is issued when the beach action value is 70.5 or higher. This is set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County has been conducting coastal beach water quality monitoring at nine sites once every two weeks since August 2000, and weekly since August 5, 2002 through the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program.

The water samples are being analyzed for enteric bacteria (enterococci) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which may cause human disease, infections, or rashes. The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from storm water runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage. The purpose of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program is to determine whether Florida has significant coastal beach water quality problems.

Please visit the Florida Department of Health's Beach Water Quality website. To review the beach water sampling results for reporting counties, click on a county name.

Study shows fertilizer ordinances improve water quality (but timing matters)

GAINESVILLE – A new University of Florida study has found that local residential fertilizer ordinances help improve water quality in nearby lakes, but the timing of fertilizer restrictions influences how effective they are.

Using 30 years of water quality data gathered by the UF/IFAS LAKEWATCH program from 1987 to 2018, scientists found that lakes in areas with winter fertilizer bans had the most improvement over time in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients found in fertilizers.

These lakes also showed larger increases in water clarity and decreases in chlorophyll since the implementation of fertilizer bans. These measurements can also indicate lower nutrient levels, as excess nutrients can feed algae blooms that lead to turbid waters with higher levels of chlorophyll.

“To date, this is the most comprehensive study of fertilizer ordinances’ impact on water quality, not just in Florida but also nationally, and it would not have been possible without the efforts of our LAKEWATCH community scientists,” said Sam Smidt, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of soil, water and ecosystem sciences and the senior author of the study.

TBRPC awards $90,000 in Stormwater Outreach and Education Grants

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Congratulations to the 2023 Stormwater Outreach and Education Funding Recipients!

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have selected the recipients of the FY2023 Stormwater Outreach and Education funding. This funding from FDOT aims to further public involvement, education, and outreach efforts to improve the quality of stormwater runoff in the Tampa Bay Region. Projects develop and implement creative public outreach programs and a variety of educational materials, such as door hangers, stormdrain murals, and hands-on activities for children.

This year, funds were distributed across 14 projects, totaling $90,000. Awardees included City of Dunedin, City of Madeira Beach, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, MOSI, Pasco County, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, and others. Many projects were tailored to this year’s target audiences: 1) frontline communities; 2) construction and development industry; 3) lawn care and landscaping companies; and 4) tourism and hospitality. Notable projects include hospitality educational programs through both Keep Pinellas Beautiful and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, expansion of the City of Largo’s rain barrel program, development of an augmented reality filter for social media by the City of Clearwater, and the creation and distribution of educational materials for Tampa Bay businesses by Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

See the full list of FY2023 funding recipients.

Visit the Stormwater Outreach & Education Funding page to learn more.

Human link to Red Tide highlights need for better water monitoring

Scientists have long tried to understand the connection between nitrogen pollution and the infamous toxic algal blooms.

When the ominous rust-colored cloud of Red Tide begins to saturate coastal waters in Southwest Florida, it means beach closures. Asthma attacks. Itchy skin and watery eyes. Dead fish and a wretched smell that can spoil the salty breeze.

Now, scientists know it means pollution made the scourge worse.

New research from University of Florida scientists is “providing clarity in what was previously a muddied landscape,” said environmental engineer Christine Angelini, a co-author of the study.

While Red Tides occur naturally, scientists have long debated the degree to which they are worsened by high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen from human sources agricultural and urban. Scientists previously had found a correlation between so-called nutrient loads and Red Tide. But the new research offers some of the strongest evidence yet that humans directly influence the severity of the toxic blooms.

Oyster shells used to create more than two miles of reefs in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Watch project not only replenishes the bay's oyster reefs but restores the ecosystem and prevents beach erosion.

PINELLAS COUNTY – The shucked oyster shells left over from tasty dishes at Tampa Bay seafood restaurants are helping to restore the shoreline ecosystem and protect shorelines from coastal erosion throughout Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary.

For the past 30 years, the nonprofit organization Tampa Bay Watch has used oyster shells to create more than 2 miles of oyster shell reefs at 30 sites along the shores of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.

Prior to the 1940s, the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) was abundant in Tampa Bay with estimates as high as 2,000 acres of oyster reefs throughout the estuary. Over-harvesting, disease and environmental impacts, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have resulted in an 85 percent loss of oyster reefs along shorelines, according to Tampa Bay Watch.

An estimated 171 acres of oyster habitat is all that remains of the 2,000 acres along the shorelines in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

To help restore Tampa Bay's lost oyster habitat, Tampa Bay Watch developed the Community Oyster Reef Enhancement (CORE) program in the early 2000s. Through CORE, Tampa Bay Watch has used more than 2,500 tons of oyster shells to restore reefs.

Seagrass meadows in Tampa Bay see ‘significant’ decline over last four years

TAMPA – Over the last four years, the seagrass meadows that blanket Tampa Bay have been shrinking. Since 2018, at least 6,300 acres of the plants have been lost with the majority of the decline happening in Old Tampa Bay.

Thriving seagrass is critical to the foundation of a healthy bay and good water quality. In 2018, Tampa Bay had about 41,000 acres of seagrasses.

"Unfortunately, over the past four years or so, we've seen significant declines in seagrass meadows, particularly in one part of the bay; we call it Old Tampa Bay," explained Maya Burke, the assistant director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Old Tampa Bay is 84-square-miles of open water that you see when driving on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Howard Frankland Bridge and Gandy Bridge. In that area, more than 4,000 acres have been lost.

"Seagrasses can be vulnerable to a variety of different stressors," Burke said. "And when those stressors interact, it can make it harder for us to maintain the amount of seagrass that we'd like to see in our bay."

USF study: Oyster reefs threatened by changes to Florida’s climate

Cold weather freezes and extremes are decreasing in Florida and may be an indicator of the state's climate changing from subtropical to tropical, researchers say.

TAMPA – Researchers with the University of South Florida say oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and along the Gulf Coast are facing a serious threat from changes to Florida's climate.

Temperatures are increasing globally, and cold weather freezes and extremes in Florida are diminishing, which is a strong indicator that the state's climate is shifting from subtropical to tropical, experts say.

In the water, researchers say they have noticed that mangroves were overtaking most oyster reefs in Tampa Bay and threaten the lives of other animals depending on oyster reef habitats. For example, the American oystercatcher, a type of bird, is classified as threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission due to the mangroves issue, the USF study says.

Shallow coast waters and remnant shorelines supported typical subtropical marine habitats for centuries in Tampa Bay, such as oyster reefs, seagrass beds, mud flats and salt marshes. However, a decrease in freezes allowed mangrove islands to replace previously dominant salt marsh vegetation and now have taken over oyster reef habitats that existed for centuries, researchers say.

FWC releases new red tide video to educate visitors and residents

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As part of an ongoing education effort on red tide research, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) recently created an animated video on red tide in Florida’s marine and estuarine waters. This video is intended for residents and visitors and covers three main topics:

Available as a single video or as three shorter stand-alone videos focused on each topic, these easy-to-access resources can be readily shared to help provide critical education leading up to and during red tide events.

The video is intended for a variety of audiences, from vacationers with little knowledge of red tide to long-time residents who wish to know more about the phenomenon and how it’s tracked.

“Historically, red tide shows up during summer or fall on the Gulf Coast of Florida, so it’s important for citizens to stay aware and educated," said Dr. Katherine Hubbard, FWC Director, Center for Red Tide Research.

In 2020, the reactivated Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Task Force identified a need in their first consensus document for communication efforts to better educate the public about red tide and other HABs. In response, the FWC HAB Grants program funded the “Developing a Communications Strategy for Red Tide in Florida” study conducted by Florida Sea Grant and a HAB communication working group was formed. This video was created, in part, to address some of the group’s recommendations.

All the videos are available on the Water Atlas video gallery page.

For more information on red tide in Florida: MyFWC.com/redtide. To see the current status of red tide in Florida, visit the link above and click on “Red Tide Current Status.”

Mote hosts workshop to guide implementation of mitigation tools for Florida red tide

Experts gather to discuss Florida red tide mitigation

Florida red tide is a type of harmful algal bloom caused by higher-than-normal concentration of the microscopic alga, Karenia brevis, that occurs in the ocean and coastal waters of southwest Florida. These blooms can harm sea life, lead to massive fish kills, cause human respiratory problems, close beaches, and be detrimental to shellfish, fishing and tourism industries. The Florida Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Development Initiative is a partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that establishes an independent and coordinated effort among public and private research entities to develop prevention, control and mitigation technologies that will decrease the impacts of Florida red tide on the environment, economy and quality of life in Florida.

On August 11 and 12, Mote hosted a workshop of over 75 attendees where red tide mitigation scientists, engineers, and government agencies, gathered to review the research being developed, discuss the status and options for deployment technologies, understand the regulatory steps and agencies involved, and plan for intellectual property and commercialization issues that may arise. The Red Tide Initiative is entering its fourth year of six and significant progress is being made on developing Florida red tide mitigation tools and technologies for field testing and implementation, thus the next step is working to move the research products to the marketplace.

”Mote is uniquely situated to create solutions through applied science, and the Red Tide Initiative is a perfect example, as we’re bringing together scientists, engineers, businesses, academic institutions and federal, state and local government partners to collaboratively develop and commercialize harmful algae bloom mitigation tools and technologies,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote.

So far under the Red Tide Initiative, Mote has issued four public requests for proposals, reviewed over 100 mitigation technology development proposals, considered well over 200 mitigation concepts, and subcontracted and partnered on a variety of research and regulatory issues with more than 30 different private business, agency and academic partners. The Initiative funding opportunities have been open to any and all interested parties and Mote has received widespread local, state, national and international interest.

Read more about the Red Tide Mitigation & Technology Development Initiative on Mote Marine Laboratory’s website.