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We’ve lost -27% of our Seagrass In Tampa Bay Since 2016. It’s Time to Prioritize Our Water




Many fisherman and recreational users of Tampa Bay have been saying it for a few years. Anecdotal chatter about “things being off,” “it’s not what it used to be,” and “umm, there was once seagrass here” has been common on social media, at the boat ramp and any other gathering of water loving people here in our community. Now we have science to back it up… and sure enough, things are certainly off.
The 2022 Tampa Bay seagrass mapping results are in and the news isn’t good. According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Tampa Bay has lost over 4,000 acres of seagrass since 2020, a -12% change. The biggest losses are occurring in Old Tampa Bay. For those keeping score, Tampa Bay has now lost a stunning 11,518 acres of seagrass since our peak in 2016 when we had a reported 41,655 acres of seagrass. We now have 30,137 acres according to the SWFWMD study, a -27% decline and significantly below the 38,000 acre target. For a region with an economy and lifestyle so tied to the health of our water, this is yet another alarm going off… It is time for change, water quality must be a priority here in Tampa Bay.

According to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, seagrass is an important habitat for fish and other marine animals. It stabilizes sediment, produces oxygen, and reduces shoreline erosion. The coverage, species, and condition of seagrass are significant indicators of ecosystem health in Tampa Bay.

When we are losing seagrass like we are, we have issues. No question that the 215 million gallons of Piney Point toxic waste being dumped into Tampa Bay didn’t help, that’s a given… but it goes beyond Piney Point. There is pollution from runoff and wastewater leaks that add nutrients to Tampa Bay every day. The nutrients fuel algae growths that are destructive to the health of seagrass. Just a few months ago Tampa Bay Waterkeeper and partners settled a case with the City of Bradenton where more than 160 million gallons of partially treated sewage bypassed the sewage treatment plant and flowed into the Manatee River. Here’s another example…The City of Tampa currently discharges (legally) an average of 50 million gallons of treated reclaimed water into the Hillsborough Bay every single day, which leads to a significant amount of nutrients going into the water. Better yet, subscribe to the Public Notice of Pollution email list that is sent out when spills are reported. That’ll fill your inbox. If these aren’t good enough “eye openers,” let’s bring our examples a little closer to home… Have you ever driven around a waterfront neighborhood in downtown St. Pete or Tampa and expected to see Tiger Woods putting on every lawn? Seagrass over PGA tour grass… anyone? Let’s encourage homeowners to skip fertilizing during the rainy season and adopt Florida-Friendly landscaping practices.
We can fix this.
There is precedent. In fact, despite the decline, we are doing way better than we were back in the 1980’s, when Tampa Bay was literally declared dead. Back in 1982, there was only 20,000 acres of seagrass in Tampa Bay. We’ve come a long way and it took community action and civic engagement to get to where we are. In 1996 the public/private Nitrogen Management Consortium was formed to assist in meeting nitrogen management targets. That was and continues to be impactful. Significantly reducing or even eliminating nitrogen going into Tampa Bay is priority number one. The City of Tampa is currently exploring ways to reduce surface water discharges. SB64 requires that the discharge of reclaimed water into surface water bodies, such as Hillsborough Bay, be reduced or eliminated by no later than 2032. Get involved in that discussion if you want to reduce the amount of nitrogen going into Tampa Bay. Stormwater is the single largest source of pollution in the watershed. We’ve got to do a better job understanding our impacts when it comes to stormwater pollution and the ways we can all help.

Tampa Bay Waterkeeper will continue to go after clean water act violators and advocate for clean water projects. It’s time for our water infrastructure to catch up with our growth here in Tampa Bay… we are all over that. Other great groups in Tampa Bay will continue to educate and complete restoration projects that positively impact water quality. Get behind these great organizations, because the days of beating our chests claiming that we are a national success story are over. It’s like being up big at half time, you still have to show up for the rest of the game.

Tampa Bay, let’s re-focus. We’ve got a long way to go to protect what we all love so much. We need to reverse the trend of seagrass loss and we need to start before it is too late.

Justin Tramble
Tampa Bay Waterkeeper
Executive Director

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