A Multiscale Approach to Seagrass Recovery in Tampa Bay, Florida


Recovery of seagrass coverage in Tampa Bay, Florida, to levels observed in 1950 (15,380 ha) is a long-term goal adopted by local, state, federal, and private partners participating in the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Nitrogen controls initiated in 1980 and continuing through present (from wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater treatment, fertilizer manufacturers, and power plants) resulted in a 60% total nitrogen load reduction compared to the mid-1970s. As a result, annual water clarity targets (measured as light attenuation and chlorophyll-a concentrations) are being met, and seagrass coverage in 2008 was the highest recorded since 1950 (but still 3,380 ha lower than 1950 coverage). However, seagrass coverage in all areas of the bay is not increasing at the same rate. Wave energy and tidal scour affect longshore sandbars, and in turn seagrass recovery in some areas. Localized water quality factors, including colored dissolved organic matter and turbidity may have impacts on seagrass growth in other areas. Have we had an effect on seagrass recovery in Tampa Bay? Yes, but it will take more than maintaining a successful nutrient management strategy to reach the recovery goal. A multiscale adaptive research and application approach is currently underway to ensure continuation of the upward trend in Tampa Bay seagrass coverage.