Today, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program boasts seagrass levels not seen since the 1950s, joining the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program in an invaluable recovery from decades of degradation from pollution and other causes.
This month's report on Tampa Bay's estuary, which covers 400 square miles from the spring-fed headwaters of the Hillsborough River to the salty waters off Anna Maria Island, shows an increase of 5,650 acres of seagrass for a grand total of 40,294. That's well above the goal set two decades ago, by more than 2,000
Healthy seagrass levels are critical to clean water and marine habitat. That translates into a healthy economy.
The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, which stretches from Palma Sola Bay south to Blackburn Bay, gained more than 4,000 acres since 1988 thanks to seagrass restoration projects. New coverage increased 46 percent to levels 28 percent above 1950. And scallops returned to the bay in 2008 thanks to clean water and seagrass habitat.
SBEP released a report last year that shows the remarkable economic impact of clean water and a healthy environment. The 150-page, two-year report places the value of all things natural and manmade in the bay, estuaries and watershed at $11.8 billion.
The figure for the entire Tampa Bay region is staggering -- $57.9 billion, in annual visitor spending, jobs, tax revenue and more. Just in the SBEP, researchers found 21,000 jobs associated with the bay with tourism and recreation the primary sources.
Manatee County's environmental protection division manager described the Tampa Bay improvements as unique in an article last week by Herald reporter Claire Aronson. Across the globe, coastal waters are degrading, Robert Brown noted. "It just shows the management strategies we've implemented are working."
One of those strategies goes into effect June 1 and lasts until Sept. 30. Manatee County's fertilizer ordinance bans the application of any product that contain nitrogen or phosphorus on lawns and landscaping.
Stormwater runoff flushes these primary contributors to pollution into our waterways, harming water quality. This is a key component to environmental protection.
The success of the two national estuary programs point to taxpayer willingness to invest in environmental restoration and preservation and to the community volunteers who assist in waterway cleanups and other opportunities to improve ecosystems. The payback is tremendous.