The Hillsborough River is vital to the Tampa Bay estuary

Plan Hillsborough staff volunteering for the Tampa BayWatch Mackay Bay oyster bar rehabFebruary 2020 – Estuaries are where freshwater rivers and streams mix with saltwater. They are important and productive habitats where many commercially and recreationally important species spend part of their lives. One of many efforts to maintain the health and vitality of the Tampa Bay Estuary is the Tampa Bay Estuary Programs’ (TBEP’s) Habitat Master Plan. The TBEP recently released its draft 2020 Habitat Master Plan Update which builds upon and extends the work from the two previously adopted Habitat Master Plans.

This update establishes 2030 protection and restoration targets for Tampa Bay habitats of interest; moving from the open bay to the headwaters and uplands of the Tampa Bay watershed. Dr. Gary Raulerson, an ecologist with TBEP in charge of the project, presented this effort to the Hillsborough River Board’s Technical Advisory Council in January. The update is primarily focused on what is possible today rather than replicating past ecological conditions and considers the future impacts of climate change. As part of this project a change analysis was conducted for the habitats of interest, with the various periods of record extending from 1998 to 2018. The most significant and meaningful changes in the TBEP habitats of interests include:

  1. The 75 percent gain is seagrass in Tampa Bay; and
  2. The 30 percent loss in native upland habitats.

The Habitat Master Plan update is important because it is used by various governments and agencies to guide their habitat restoration efforts, and also compliments and informs the River Board’s ongoing efforts to restore native habitats in the Hillsborough River wherever possible.

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