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Tampa-Area Conservationist Retires After 31 Years

After 31 years with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Brandt Henningsen has retired as Chief Advisory Environmental Scientist.

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros recently spoke with Henningsen, during his final day on the job, getting a glimpse at his work in conservation in the Tampa Bay area.

Are there projects in the Tampa Bay area that you're particularly proud of?

Oh absolutely. One of the ones that was most recently finished would be the Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration Project that I did with an engineer by the name of Nancy Norton. We were co-project managers on that. And this particular project is a landscape-sized project. It's the largest single coastal ecosystem restoration project ever done for Tampa Bay.

It's right at 1,050 acres-- so that's about 650 acres of various types of upland habitats, and then about 400 acres of various types of estuarine freshwater wetlands. So that particular project is also providing some water quality improvements as we're taking some offsite drainage from predominately an agricultural watershed and then running that through our freshwater wetlands before it goes into intertidal lagoons.

So that's helping cleanse that water removing some of the pollutants, while keeping the freshwater wetlands more hydrated. And then that freshwater, when it goes into the intertidal lagoons, lowers the salinity in those lagoons to make it more nursery friendly for little baby fishes, like your little snook and redfish and mullet and tarpon and things like that that are important for the commercial fisheries, as well as to recreational fisheries.

How have water issues evolved in the Tampa Bay area the last three decades that you've been working?

What has happened is typically we have a biologist working with an engineer. And so the biologists teach the engineers some some ecology, and the the engineers teach the biologists some engineering principles, so we kind of blend the best of both worlds and and try to end up designing and then constructing projects that will be multifunctional-- both from a water quality improvement perspective, as well as providing quality habitats. So as a result of that-- of decades and decades of people working on improving water quality for Tampa Bay-- we have seen dramatic shifts of water quality improvements for Tampa Bay.

I mean right now, our water some of the cleanest it's been since the 1950s. We have thousands of acres of seagrasses that have had naturally recolonized throughout the Bay. We have more sea grasses now that was estimated to exist in the 1950s. Our fisheries resources have rebounded significantly. You know people are very pleased with these results. And it's a result of literally thousands of people working incrementally over the last 40 years to make these improvements. And that's sort of strategy could be used elsewhere throughout the state. And hopefully that would reduce these these blue green algae blooms and hopefully even like red tide.

What do you think about our new governor, Ron DeSantis, in terms of his environmental policy?

The first two weeks of Governor DeSantis' new administration have been very pleasantly surprising and he has come out with with you know both barrels blazing and he's taken a very promising environmental posture toward trying to address some of these environmental problems here in Tampa Bay. So I think the environmental community is is heartened by that and we hope that that's going to continue.

Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.
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