Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest estuary, covering close to 400 square miles. The bay is fed by numerous waters including Hillsborough River, Palm River, Manatee River, Alafia River, Little Manatee River and Lake Tarpon. Tampa Bay hosts a diverse array of habitats, from oyster beds, seagrass meadows, mangroves and coastal hardwood hammocks. These habitats support a robust tourism industry as well as abundant populations of fish, birds and other wildlife, including numerous threatened and endangered species.
The surrounding area is home to about four million residents, putting stress on the bay’s ecosystem. In 1990, Tampa Bay was designated an “estuary of national significance” by Congress, creating an avenue for restoration. Significant efforts over the past decades have improved water quality by reducing the nutrients and other pollution entering the bay. Seagrass beds and other bay habitats have recovered as a result. In 2016, the bay had more overall seagrass coverage than it is thought to have had in 1950.
However, a few areas of Tampa Bay have been more challenging to recover. Runoff from urban, residential and agricultural lands remains the largest source of nitrogen – the primary pollutant in the bay. The National Wildlife Federation supports projects to improve Tampa Bay’s habitats and water quality, especially in those areas that have been slow to fully recover.