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Tampa Bay Seagrasses Rebound to 1950 Levels

Tampa Bay Estuary Program
Seagrass in Tampa Bay

There's good news on at least one environmental front in Florida. Water flowing into Tampa Bay has been cleaned up so much in recent decades that seagrasses there now rivals the numbers found in the 1950s. On Friday, Oct. 16, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will host a celebration on Picnic Island in Tampa. WUSF's Steve Newborn asks program executive director Holly Greening if she's surprised by this progress.

Here's details of the upcoming event from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program:

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program is sponsoring a community celebration of our success in achieving seagrass restoration goals for Tampa Bay on Friday, October 16 at Picnic Island Park in Tampa. “Roots, Shoots & Shovels” will take place from 10 a.m.-noon at Pavilion 613 at Picnic Island. The event will feature remarks from community leaders and elected officials, the unveiling of a commemorative poster, and a ceremonial seagrass planting in shallow waters of the park. The event celebrates an historic milestone for our bay--the recovery of seagrasses to levels not seen in 60 years. Survey results released this year documented more than 5,000 acres of life-sustaining underwater grasses from 2012-2014. Tampa Bay now harbors 40,295 acres of seagrasses, surpassing the baywide goal of 38,000 acres set in 1995 by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. These remarkable gains mirror similar trends in water quality, reflecting the collective efforts of local governments, regulatory agencies, industries, scientists and citizens working together to revitalize Tampa Bay. Among the featured speakers are EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney; Manatee County Commissioner Robin Disabatino; Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice; Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White; Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco; and representatives of U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and U.S. Representatives Kathy Castor and David Jolly. To register, visit http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=e6budacab&oeidk=a07eb90xd5gaa4b591b

A Portrait of The Tampa Bay Estuary

1.  Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida, encompassing nearly 400 square miles and bordering three counties -- Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas. The bay's sprawling watershed covers a land area nearly five times as large, at 2,200 square miles.

2.  More than 100 tributaries flow into Tampa Bay, including dozens of meandering, brackish-water creeks and four major rivers -- the Hillsborough, Alafia, Manatee and Little Manatee.

3.  A single quart of bay water may contain as many as 1 million phytoplankton -- microscopic, single-celled plants that are an essential thread in the "who eats who" marine food web.

4.  More than 200 species of fish are found in Tampa Bay, including the popular snook, redfish and spotted sea trout.

5.  Mangrove-blanketed islands in Tampa Bay support the most diverse colonial waterbird nesting colonies in North America, annually hosting 40,000 pairs of 25 different species of birds, from the familiar white ibis and great blue heron to the regal reddish egret -- the rarest heron in the nation.

6.  Each square meter of bay sediment contains an average of 10,000 animals -- mostly tiny, burrowing worms, crustaceans and other mud-dwellers that are known as benthic invertebrates. The most numerous creature in the bay sediment is a primitive, fish-like invertebrate about two inches long called branchiostoma.

7.  On average, Tampa Bay is only 12 feet deep. Because it is so shallow, manmade shipping channels have been dredged to allow large ships safe passage to the Port of Tampa and other bay harbors. The largest of these, the main shipping channel, is 43 feet deep and 40 miles long.

8.  The Port of Tampa is Florida's largest port and consistently ranks among the top 10 ports nationwide in trade activity. It contributes billions annually to the region's economy.

9.  More than 4 billion gallons of oil, fertilizer components and other hazardous materials pass through Tampa Bay each year.

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