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Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Figure 1: The Social Network for Tampa Bay [1]

In 1990, Tampa Bay was designated an "estuary of national significance" by the US Congress, and joined the ranks of the National Estuary Program (which currently contains 28 estuaries) in 1991. As an urban watershed confronted with pollution, habitat loss and increasing development, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) faced significant challenges. Over fifteen years later, TBEP stands as a model for collaborative partnerships, innovative agreements and approaches for habitat restoration and addressing atmospheric nitrogen deposition as a contributor to eutrophication.

Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest open-water estuary, spanning 400 square miles, with a drainage area nearly six times that size. While the Bay contains rich biodiversity, it is impacted by a rapidly growing human population and the second largest metropolitan area in the state. As of 2008, more than 2.3 million people lived in the watershed, and that number is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent by the year 2015.

In the 1950s, rapid population growth in the Tampa Bay watershed and increased urban development caused a significant deterioration in the bay’s water quality and habitat, and natural resources. Urban development, dredging, canals, and causeways have altered approximately half of the bay’s original shoreline. Forty percent (40%) of the Bay’s seagrass beds have disappeared since 1950, as have 21% of its emergent wetlands (Tampa Bay Estuary Program/TBEP).