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Water-Related News

TBEP releases “State of the Bay” report

First the good news: Water quality across Tampa Bay is meeting or exceeding targets for clarity, and some critical habitats – including oyster bars, mangroves, and coastal uplands – are likely to meet the aggressive goals set for 2030.

Then the bad news: Seagrass, the single most important habitat in the estuary and the “elephant in the room,” isn’t on the list of habitats expected to meet their targets. Bay managers don’t expect it to rebound significantly but they do see a glimmer of hope. “We saw a slight increase in the 2023 transect data,” said Marcus Beck, program scientist at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP). “I don’t want to say that seagrasses are on the road to recovery, but it is encouraging news.”

The documented loss of 11,518 acres of seagrasses in 2022, which continues a trend that began in 2016 from the high of 41,655 acres, comes from aerial images collected every other year by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). The images cover all areas where seagrasses are expected to survive and the interpretations of those images are considered the official acreage estimate. SWFWMD is currently acquiring the latest imagery, with the 2024 report expected in early 2025.

Seagrass transects, on the other hand, are monitored every summer at 62 locations across the bay in an effort led by TBEP. Trained snorkelers document the seagrass and macroalgae along each transect, including details that can’t be compiled from the aerial surveys such as species of seagrass, stem density and a description of macroalgae.

Most of those gains seen in the transects were shoal grass, Halodule wrightii, which is typically the species most likely to recur first, although its growth is more dynamic than other species in the bay, often responding rapidly to changing conditions. Gains were also noted for Ruppia maritima, a seagrass species that prefers lower salinity.

For more than 30 years, the paradigm for restoring Tampa Bay has focused on attaining water clear enough for sunlight to reach the bay bottom where seagrasses need it to survive. High levels of nutrients, typically from stormwater and wastewater, fuel the growth of algae that block sunlight.