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Report Says Quality Of Tampa Bay Continues To Rebound

 Howard Frankland Bridge over Old Tampa Bay with algae bloom in the bay Algae bloom in Old Tampa Bay, north of Howard Frankland Bridge, August 2011.
Courtesy Southwest Florida Water Management District
Howard Franklin Bridge over Old Tampa Bay with algae bloom in the bay Algae bloom in Old Tampa Bay, north of Howard Frankland Bridge, August 2011.

By Steve Newborn

The state of Tampa Bay report comes out every three years, and the latest one shows the water body is in pretty good shape. It wasn't too long ago that pollution killed a lot of life in the bay.

The report says the bay is continuing its upswing, both in the clarity of the water and its numbers of fish and oysters. Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, says sea grasses are nearly double the amount found in the 1970s.

"But the issues from last year related to the red tide and some of the ongoing algal bloom we have still in Old Tampa Bay," he said, "keeps us cognizant of the fact that we still need to do our best to reduce nutrient loads coming from a variety of different sources in our watershed and going into our water bodies."

Sherwood says the area's burgeoning human population remains a challenge, as well as rising seas nipping away at mangroves and coastal marshes.

He says they have been successful in reducing emissions from point sources, such as sewage outfalls, and from power plants. Summertime fertilizer bans have helped, but runoff from creeks and streams remains a problem.

"We're actively pursuing a lot of shellfish oyster restoration projects, particularly in Old Tampa Bay, because we think that will have a dual benefit of not only enhancing those habitats, but potentially improving water quality," Sherwood said. "There's an algal bloom that occurs every summer there called paradinium that blooms there basically because there's poor tidal circulation in Old Tampa Bay. And we think that restoring oysters in that part of the bay will help water quality and reduce the availability of nutrients and potentially reduce those blooms in the future."

Algae bloom in Old Tampa Bay
Credit Tampa Bay Estuary Program

"So we're actively involved with a lot of shellfish restoration projects, not only in Old Tampa Bay," he said, "just to benefit and general ecology of the system."

Sherwood credited the foresight of the entire region for helping stem some of the nutrient and pollution runoff into the bay.

"I think it's been very much a model of partnership, people's willingness to do what they can to reduce the sources of pollution that are entering Tampa Bay," he said, "no matter the actions - small or big - people invested in pollution-reduction activities. And that has really paid dividends."

Map of sea grasses since the 1950s
Credit Tampa Bay Estuary Program
Map of sea grasses since the 1950s

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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