1 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y State of the Bay INTRODUCTION Spanning 400 square miles, with a drainage area nearly six times as large, TampaBay and its watershed stretch from the spring-fed headwaters of theHillsborough River to the salty waters off Anna Maria Island. Floridaâ€™s largest open-water estuary harbors a rich and diverse assemblage of plants and animals, along with a rapidly growing human population that has made the region the second largest metropolitan area in the state. In spite of its size, the bay has an average depth of only 11 feet â€“ a troublesome figure to early commercial boosters who envisioned Tampa Bay as a great commercial har- bor. Today, more than 80 miles of deep-water shipping channels â€“ the largest 43 feet deep â€“ have made that dream a reality. Three seaports now flourish along the bayâ€™s borders, in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and in northern Manatee County. The largest of these, the Port of Tampa, consistently ranks among the busiest ports in the nation. Combined, the three ports contribute an estimated $15 billion to the local economy and support 130,000 jobs. Tampa Bay is also a focal point of the regionâ€™s premier industry â€“ tourism. The bay and the sparkling beaches of the surrounding barrier islands attract nearly 5 million visitors a year. Fort DeSoto Park, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, was named the number one beach in the continental United States in the 2004 annual survey conducted by â€œDr. Beach,â€ Professor Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University. Sport fishing, boating, kayaking and wildlife watching are increasingly popular activi- ties among both visitors and residents â€“ an interest fueled by steady improvements in water quality that continue to reap ecological benefits. Today, some 40,000 pairs of wading and shore birds of 25 species nest annually on protected islands in the bay; one-sixth of the Gulf Coast population of Florida manatees spend the winter near power plants bordering the bay; and more than 200 species of fish spend some part of their lives within the Tampa Bay estuary. More than 2.3 million people live in the three counties directly bordering Tampa Bay â€“ Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas. That number is expected to grow by nearly 19 percent by the year 2015, as approximately 500 people move to one of those three counties each week. With such fast-paced growth, redressing past damage to bay habitats and protecting them in the future, will remain the greatest challenge for bay managers. Maintaining 2 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y the water quality gains of recent decades will require more effort every year to com- pensate for increased pollution associated with growth. Actions we take both individu- ally and collectively will increasingly influence the state of the bay. This chapter explores the progress that has been made in achieving the primary goals of the original Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Tampa Bay, and the current status of key indicators of the bayâ€™s health. WATER AND SEDIMENT QUALITY The amount of algae in Tampa Bay waters, as indicated by chlorophyll a concentra- tions, has declined dramatically since 1980, thanks to improved wastewater and stormwater treatment, reductions in industrial discharges, limits on dredging and fill- ing, and removal of several wastewater point sources as extensive water reuse systems are constructed. Chlorophyll a is an important indicator of the amount of microscopic algae in the water. This chart shows average annu- al chlorophyll a concentrations (ug/l) for the four major bay segments. The solid lines indicate the target concentrations associated with adequate light penetration for seagrass growth in each respective bay segment. Chlorophyll Concentration Timeline Old Tampa Bay Mean Annual Chlorophyll a Concentration Hillsborough Bay Mean Annual Chlorophyll a Concentration Lower Tampa Bay Mean Annual Chlorophyll a Concentration Middle Tampa Bay Mean Annual Chlorophyll a Concentration Old Tampa B y Mean A nual Chlorophyll a Conce tration Hillsborough Bay Mean A nual Chlorophyll a Conce tration Lower Tampa B y Mean A nual Chlorophyll a Conce tration Middle Tampa B y Mean A nual Chlorophyll a Conce tration SOURCE: Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County 3 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y Stormwater runoff from urban, residential and agricultural lands remains the largest source of nitrogen, the primary pollutant in the bay. An overabundance of nitrogen can cause algae blooms and reduce oxygen levels in the bay, resulting in turbid water, fish kills and loss of seagrass when the water becomes so opaque that sunlight cannot reach underwater grasses. Stormwater accounted for 63% of total nitrogen loadings to Tampa Bay from 1999-2003. The Tampa Bay Estuary Programâ€™s Policy Board, along with TBEPâ€™s Nitrogen Management Consortium (NMC), a partnership of local governments and private industries with facilities along the bay, has adopted a goal of maintaining nitrogen loadings to the bay at the average calculated for the 1992-1994 timeframe. This â€œhold the lineâ€ approach is expected to foster water quality sufficient to allow continued nat- ural recovery of seagrasses. However, achieving this goal with the continued growth and associated increases in stormwater runoff projected in the region will require bay- wide loadings to be reduced by 17 tons per year. Local governments have committed to assuming a reduction target of 11 tons per year, while industry partners have agreed to reduce their contributions by 6 tons per year. As of 2004, projects completed in the Tampa Bay watershed by NMC partners actually exceeded those reduction goals. Additionally, all major bay segments except Old Tampa Bay met chlorophyll a targets (a measure of microscopic algae in the water) with the exception of El Nino years (1997-98 and 2003), providing sufficient water clarity for seagrass recovery. A separate seagrass recovery plan is being devel- oped for Old Tampa Bay, to identify and remediate causes of continued water quality problems and seagrass declines there. The bay narrowly averted a potentially devastating blow in 2001, when Mulberry Phosphates abandoned its Piney Point fertilizer plant and gypsum stack in northern Manatee County, forcing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to assume operation and cleanup of the facility. The threat of a potential breach in the gypsum stack holding ponds required DEP to discharge large volumes of nutrient-rich wastewater into Lower Tampa Bay, resulting in an additional 15 tons of nitrogen load- ing in one month â€“ more than three times the annual load reduction target for that bay segment. The crisis was alleviated in 2003, when DEP was granted an emergency per- mit to disperse treated wastewater from the site into the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Closure of the facility is well underway, but future use of the site remains undetermined. Cleanup costs had reached more than $77 million as of September 2005, prompting DEP to amend the rules pertaining to financial surety of phosphate companies operating in Florida to avoid a similar situation in the future. A significant portion of the nitrogen entering the bay, about 21%, comes from atmos- pheric deposition (air pollution) directly to the bayâ€™s surface, either with rainfall or dry deposition. Research indicates that power plants and mobile sources (such as cars) are the primary locally generated sources of airborne nitrogen. New pollution controls on bay area power plants and conversion of one major plant (Tampa Electricâ€™s Gannon facility) to fueling by natural gas instead of coal will result in dra- matic reductions in nitrogen emissions from these facilities in the next decade. Cleaner-burning fuels, improved fuel economy standards, expanded mass transit sys- tems and increased telecommuting could mitigate emission increases associated with motor vehicles. 4 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y 15% Pasture/Range Lands 20% Residential 12% Agriculture 9% Commercial/ Industrial 1% Undeveloped Land 6% Mining Intensive 63% Stormwater Runoff 21% Atmospheric Deposition 9% Municipal Wastewater 3% Industrial 1% 3% Groundwater & Springs Wastewater Accidental Fertilizer Losses Total Nitrogen Loadings in Tampa Bay (1999-2003 average) SOURCE: Poe et al, 2005 5 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y Ensuring that bay waters remain safe for swimming and other recreational uses is vital to the regionâ€™s tourist-dependent economy, as well as to the quality of life for area res- idents. Local health departments routinely monitor public beaches, and mandate clo- sures when bacteria counts exceed guidelines. Closures occur most often when heavy rainfall funnels large volumes of stormwater runoff to waters near public beaches, or when a spill of partially treated wastewater occurs. Recent research has shown that the traditional indicators of bacterial contamination, E. coli and fecal coliform, may not be the most suitable barometers of contamination, since both may occur naturally in warm-water climates. As a result, the use of enterococci as a supplemental and more reliable indicator is now gaining widespread acceptance. With the exception of several â€œhot spotsâ€ primarily near ports and other industrial areas, Tampa Bay sediments remain relatively free of toxic contaminants. TBEP developed a Tampa Bay Benthic Index that indicates the severity of chemical contami- nation or hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen) at various sites based on lack of diversity or abundance of benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. The benthic index will serve as the foundation for ranking sites where restoration is needed. Using the index, TBEPâ€™s Sediment Quality Assessment Group has identified several sites where degraded benthic communities were clearly associated with chemical contaminants of concern. Priority areas identified by the group for development of site-specific action plans are the Palm River and McKay Bay; Ybor Channel; West Davis Islands; East Bay; Largo Inlet; the Westshore area of Tampa; Bayboro Harbor; and the Apollo Beach/Big Bend area. Assessment of each of these areas began in 2005, and action plans for two will be initiated in 2006. Cleanup efforts may include dredging of contaminated areas or â€œcappingâ€ them with clean fill. BAY HABITATS Tampa Bay boasts a diverse palette of habitats, from open-water rubble and reef com- munities to lush seagrass meadows and coastal hardwood hammocks. Estimated losses of nearly half the bayâ€™s wetland habitats since the 1950s led to devel- opment of TBEPâ€™s â€œrestoring the balanceâ€ strategy to guide restoration efforts. This approach recognizes that losses of some habitat types, such as low-salinity tidal marshes (-38%), have been disproportionately greater than for others, such as man- grove forests (-13%). While seeking to maximize recovery of those habitats hardest hit by development activities, â€œrestoring the balanceâ€ also calls for preserving and enhancing existing mangrove and marsh communities through land acquisition, inva- sive species eradication and regulatory protections. Specific goals for emergent habitat restoration and protection, as incorporated in the Habitat Restoration Master Plan, are: â€¢ Restore the historic balance of coastal wetland habitats by restoring at least 100 acres of low-salinity habitats every five years. â€¢ Preserve the bayâ€™s 18,800 acres of marsh and mangrove habitat, including 28 priority sites. â€¢ Establish and maintain adequate freshwater flows to the bay and its tribu- taries. 6 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y MANATEE CO. SARASOTA CO. POLK CO. St. Petersburg Tampa 26 10 12 11 39 43 3 48 6 27 45 34 7 36 33 13 9 37 16 23 28 1 47 PASCO CO. 4 PINELLAS CO. HILLSBOROUGH CO. 49 50 51 52 54 55 56 57 58 Bradenton Clearwater 44 5 53 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 10 112 13 14 15 17 18 19 20 21 28 24 25 30 41 42 48 34 35 29 38 3132 44 40 46 22 26 1. Allenâ€™s Creek I & Lancaster Tract 2. Bartlett Park 3. Bayshore Blvd. 4. Boca Ciega Phase 1, 2 & 3 5. Braden River (SR64 & SR70) 6. NE McKay Bay 7. Cargill South Parcel 8. Clam Bayou 1, 2 & 3 9. Cockroach Bay Phases A-B-C-D-E-F 10. Coopers Point 11. Cypress Point 12. Del Oro Park 13. E. G. Simmions Park 1 & 2 14. Emerson Point 15. Gandy Park 16. Howard Frankland/Gateway Tract 17. Harbor Palms Park 18. Hendry Delta Fill 19. Howard Frankland East 20. Joeâ€™s Creek 1 & 2 and Long/Cross Bayou 21. Jungle Prada Park 22. Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal Phase 1 & 2 23. Little Bayou 24. Mangrove Bay 1, 2 & 3 25. MacDill Air Force Base Phase 1 & 2 26. Mobbly Bay & Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve Phase 2 27. Ribbon of Green 28. Osgood Point 29. Peanut Lake 30. Picnic Island 31. Terra Ceia Causeway 32. Terra Ceia Aquatic and Buffer Preserve 1 & 2 33. Wolf Branch Creek Phase 1 & 2 34. Lowry Park 35. The Kitchen: Davis Tract, Schultz Preserve, Dug Creek 36. Apollo Beach 37. Balm Road Marsh 38. South Skyway 39. Polanis Park 40. Braden River 2 41. Ballast Point 42. Fort Brooke 43. South Tampa Greenway/Tappan 44. Palmetto Estuary 45. Reed Property 46. Fort DeSoto Park 47. Largo Central Park Habitat Restoration 48. River Garden Stabilization Study 49. Hillsborough River State Park 50. DeSoto Park Addition Shoreline Restoration 51. Brooker Creek Channel L 52. Brooker Creek Channel F 53. Brooker Creek ELAPP Habitat Restoration 54. Bahia Beach Habitat Restoration 55. Ekker Property Restoration 56. River Tower Shoreline Restoration 57. Eagle Lake Park Wetland Restoration 58. Sweetwater Creek Habitat Restoration Habitat Restoration Projects in Tampa Bay 2005 SOURCE: SWFWMD Legend Complete Active Tampa Bay Watershed Boundary SWFWMD Proposed Parcels SWFWMD Acquired Parcels 1 1 7 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y From 1995-2001, more than 378 acres of low-salinity, or oligohaline, habitats were restored, far exceeding the original goal of 100 acres every five years. These critically important areas are vital to the survival of juvenile snook and mullet as well as numerous wading birds. A new research initiative, begun in 2005, will quantify specific water and sediment quality requirements for oligohaline tributaries of the bay, particularly small streams and creeks about which little is presently known. Overall, about 2,350 total acres of marshes, mangroves and other benchmark habitats were restored in the Tampa Bay ecosystem from 1996-2003, primarily through pro- jects coordinated by the Southwest Florida Water Management Districtâ€™s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program. More than 60 percent of the total restored acres were marshes or mangroves, while 27 percent were coastal uplands. Pending projects will triple the amount of habitat restored in the next decade, as larger efforts that provide significant wildlife corridors and emphasize creation of a â€œmosaicâ€ of diverse habitat types take shape. The Habitat Restoration Master Plan also emphasizes the restoration or protection of small freshwater ponds in the vicinity of white ibis and other wading bird rookeries, as the crayfish and frogs found in these ponds are a critical food source for ibis chicks. Some progress has been made in preserving or restoring freshwater ponds, but the gains are not fully documented at present. The Master Plan also identified 28 priority sites for protection to be managed or restored as necessary, through either direct purchase or other means such as conserva- tion easements on private property. These sites were earmarked â€œhigh priorityâ€ by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in the stateâ€™s Save Our Rivers and Florida Forever land-buying programs. A total of 11,494 acres of estuarine habitat was preserved through acquisition of these top-priority sites by TBEP partners between 1996 and 2003. Critical habitats not included in the 1995 Bay Habitat Master Plan are hard-bottom habitats, including submerged rock or rubble reefs as well as oyster bars. These important habitats will be included in an updated Master Plan now being developed. Projects already are underway to map the extent and location of historic oyster bars in the bay and compare those with existing aerial photographs, and to evaluate the effec- tiveness of various artificial reef designs currently utilized. Improvements in water quality have fueled steady gains in seagrass recovery, averag- ing about 250 acres per year, over the past two decades. Seagrasses are among the bayâ€™s most vital habitats, harboring an abundance of sea life. These flowering marine plants are generally found in waters 6 feet deep or less in Tampa Bay, where sunlight can penetrate the water column. Seagrass beds are important nursery and feeding grounds for several commercially and recreationally important species in Tampa Bay, including shrimp, spotted sea trout, red drum, and snook. TBEP and its partners have established a seagrass recovery goal of approximately 12,000 acres, while preserving the bayâ€™s existing 26,000 acres, for a total of 38,000 acres baywide. By 1997, about 4,000 new acres of seagrass were documented. However, record-setting El Nino rains from 1997-1999 erased some of those gains, resulting in a loss of about 2,000 acres from nutrient-laden stormwater runoff that clouded the water. Seagrasses rebounded by about five percent to 26,078 acres in 2002. 8 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y The most recent aerial surveys conducted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, assessing changes from 2002 to 2004, show a continued, albeit slower recovery of 946 acres baywide, or about 4 percent from 2002-2004. Gains were documented in every bay segment except Old Tampa Bay, where seagrasses declined by 636 acres, or 12 percent, during this two-year period. It is important to note that the 2002-2004 surveys were completed prior to the record- setting 2004 hurricane season, and do not take into account any impacts from associ- ated wastewater and phosphogypsum stack spills. The lagging recovery of seagrasses in Old Tampa Bay, and especially a 2,000-acre area in Feather Sound, remains a key focus of research sponsored by the Tampa Bay Seagrass Decline and Recovery 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 Se ag ra ss - Ac re s (x 1, 00 0) 1950 1982 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1999 2002 2004 SOURCE: Southwest Florida Water Management District 1988 - 2004 GOAL: Recover an additional 10,976 acres of seagrass over 2004 levels, while pre- serving the bayâ€™s existing 27,024 acres of seagrass as of 2004; an increase of 946 acres from 2002. STATUS: Between 1988-1996, seagrass acreage increased an average of 450 acres per year. El Nino rains resulted in seagrass losses of about 2,000 acres between 1996-1999. In January 2004, seagrass acreage had increased an addition- al 946 acres, resulting in the highest observed acreage estimate since 1950. 9 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y Estuary Program beginning in 2003. Among potential causes of the seagrass declines are poor water quality, reduced circulation and flushing, and increased epiphytic growth on grass blades (which can prevent sunlight from reaching the blades), but studies so far are inconclusive. Solving the puzzle of the seagrass die-backs in Old Tampa Bay is critical to achieving the baywide seagrass recovery goal set by TBEP. Wave erosion from passing ships is also suspected as a culprit in seagrass losses in some parts of the bay. Historical photos indicate that the presence of natural longshore sandbars that once existed in many areas may have helped to buffer wave action, allowing seagrass to flourish in the shallow waters landward of the bars. A pilot pro- ject to test this theory was launched in 2005 to reconstruct an experimental longshore bar along the southeastern shoreline of the bay. FISH AND WILDLIFE A spectacular variety of wildlife lives in, above and beside Tampa Bay â€“ from the familiar brown pelican to the secretive diamondback terrapin to the magnificent tar- pon, a premier gamefish. Wading and shorebirds are among the bayâ€™s most visible inhabitants. Mangrove islands in the bay support up to 40,000 breeding pairs of 25 species of colonial water- birds such as herons, ibis and egrets. As many as half breed in Hillsborough Bay. Many rare or coastal species nesting in Tampa Bay experienced sustained population increases between 1994-2001, including Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, American Oystercatcher, and Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns. El Nino rains created extremely advantageous foraging conditions in 1998, and breeding populations of some species, such as White Ibis, almost tripled before returning to pre-1998 condi- tions in 1999. Beach-nesting birds such as black skimmers and least terns remain vulnerable to human-related impacts associated with waterfront development and recreational use, although nesting areas at Egmont Key, Shell Key and other islands have been protected in recent years. Manatees, dolphins and sea turtles are high-profile bay residents. The number of man- atees using Tampa Bay has steadily increased in the past decade, likely as a result of improved habitat and the presence of power plants that provide warm-water refuges for manatees wintering in the bay. More than 350 individuals have been counted in the bay in the winter months. About 150 animals are found in the bay in the summer, when the entire West Coast population is more scattered. A number of year-round and slow-speed zones have been created in the bay, through federal, state or local regulation, along with two no-entry areas â€“ the power plant out- falls at Tampa Electricâ€™s Big Bend complex near Apollo Beach and the Bartow plant owned by Progress Energy at Weedon Island. Extensive shoreline speed zones are in place in Hillsborough County from Tampaâ€™s Rocky Point area south to the Gandy Bridge, from the Alafia River to E.G. Simmons Park south of Ruskin, in Terra Ceia Bay, the Manatee River, and in Pinellas County north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Oldsmar. Additionally, Pinellas County has implemented seagrass protection zones at Fort 10 CHARTING the COURSE F O R T A M P A B A Y DeSoto Park, Weedon Island and north of the Courtney Campbell Causeway that also serve to protect manatees feeding and resting in the shallow grass beds. More than 850 individual dolphins have been identified in Tampa Bay, but resident population estimates are closer to 550. Researchers have identified five separate communities of dolphins in what is a relatively â€œclosedâ€ population strongly rooted to discrete home ranges within the bay. In fact, photo surveys confirm that a large pro- portion of dolphins first identified in Tampa Bay in the late 1980s still frequent these waters. Some individuals are thought to be more than 50 years old. Although only about 350 sea turtles nest annually on beaches surrounding Tampa Bay â€“ less than 1% of the average statewide total â€“ this number is nevertheless regionally significant because it contributes to the diversity of the species as a whole. Nests are documented annually on the barrier islands off Pinellas and Manatee Counties, with Egmont Key providing the most pristine nesting beach remaining. Sea turtles are common inhabitants of the bay itself. Loggerheads are by far the most numerous, but green, hawksbill, and Kempâ€™s ridley turtles also are found. Adults forage in the bay, while juveniles shelter there until they are large enough to survive in the open ocean. Recent research has revealed that Tampa Bay is an important nurs- ery area for young Kempâ€™s ridley turtles â€“ among the worldâ€™s most endangered ani- mals. Fisheries population estimates as measured by the stateâ€™s Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program since 1989 show species-specific patterns. For example: â€¢ Red drum juvenile abundances peaked in 1991 and 1995, and were relatively constant from 1996-2001. â€¢ Sheepshead juvenile abundance peaks seem to occur in three-year cycles, with high recruitment in 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000. â€¢ Snook juvenile abundance estimates were highest in 1999 and 2000. â€¢ Spotted seatrout juvenile abundance has been relatively stable since 1991. â€¢ Blue crab abundances were lowest in 1990 and highest in 1989, 1992, 1995 and 1998. DREDGING AND DREDGED MATERIAL MANAGEMENT The Tampa Bay region has developed a long-term plan specifically to address the issues associated with dredging and dredged material. This plan, a joint effort of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the Army Corps of Engineers, fosters coordination of dredging and dredged material management to maximize shared placement and beneficial use opportunities while minimizing the environmental impacts and costs associated with these activities. The plan is updated from time to time and is the dri- ving force behind several recent pilot projects to explore innovative uses of dredge spoil. Currently, dredging to maintain the bayâ€™s nautical channels generates about a million cubic yards of material each year, enough to fill Raymond James Stadium 10 times.