A Boating and Angling Guide to Tampa Bay A Boating and Angling Guide to Tampa Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Logo Tampa Bay Estuary Program Logo Florida Department of Environmental Protection Logo Sport Fish Restoration Logo Southwest Florida Water Management District Logo
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Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission

Fish and Wildlife
Research Institute
100 Eighth Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701

Tampa Bay Estuary Program
100 Eighth Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701

Tampa Bay Estuary Program License Plate
Funding for this project was obtained through Tampa Bay Estuary Program specialty license plate funds.

Sport Fish Restoration Logo
Additional funding for this project was obtained through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Fund.
Native Habitats Banner
Tampa Bay is a rich mosaic of fish and wildlife habitats that form life-sustaining links in an ecosystem as biologically productive as some of the world’s most celebrated rain forests.  From coastal mangroves and marshes to underwater meadows of seagrass, from the open bay to the salty mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, each interdependent habitat plays a vital role in this “Estuarine Machine.”

Seagrasses and mangroves, most notable among these habitats, contribute significantly to a dynamic food chain that draws nutrients from the bay floor.  As seagrass and mangrove leaves decay, they provide food for small creatures that are ultimately consumed by fish and larger predators in an endless circle of life.

Seagrasses are flowering underwater plants found at shallow depths in bays and lagoons and in nearshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico. As a nursery environment, seagrasses support small fish, shrimp, and crabs that hide among the blades and feast on decaying leaves.  Seagrasses also help stabilize shifting sands on the bottom of the bay and improve water clarity by trapping fine sediments.

Turtle Grass (Thalassia)
Once plentiful, seagrass beds now cover less than half of their original acreage in Tampa Bay-- a loss triggered by dredge-and-fill activity and declines in water quality.  Damage from motor boats is severe in areas.  As boats carve through shallow grass flats, their propellers cut sandy trenches that may stay barren for years.

More information about seagrass can be found in the brochure "Florida's Seagrasses" (PDF, 600 KB).
Seagrass Scarring
More than 80 percent of all recreationally and commercially important fish species are dependent upon seagrass at some point in their lives. Seagrass improves water quality, traps sediment, provides shelter for many juvenile fish species, and provides a food source for other marine life. Avoid damaging seagrass by knowing your boat’s operating depth and navigating in marked channels. Anchor only in bare sandy bottoms. If you run aground in shallow water, stop and pole your boat into deeper water.

photo of seagras scars inside a seagrass bed
Destruction of seagrass in Aquatic Preserves is a violation of Florida Law and carries a penalty of up to $1,000.00.

Red Mangrove MANGROVES
Mangroves are tropical trees that thrive in salty environments along the water’s edge.  Like seagrasses, they provide food and cover for a vast array of small fish and other animals.  Their roots anchor shorelines, and their branches serve as nesting sites for a wide variety of birds.

Three species of mangroves are common in Tampa Bay.  Red mangroves, typically located closest to the water, are easily distinguished by their tangled reddish roots that branch out over the water.  Black mangroves feature numerous finger-like projections, called pneumatophores, that surround the base of the tree.  White mangroves, which often occupy the highest elevations of the three species, have no visible aerial root system.  The leaves of the white mangrove are yellow-green.

Mangrove prop roots
© Chris Anderson
More information about mangroves can be found in the brochure "Florida's Mangroves" (PDF, 512 KB).
Like seagrasses, marshes provide food and cover for a vast array of small fish and wildlife. These marshes, which periodically become submerged, nourish and protect many fish and birds.  They also buffer upland areas from storms and help filter pollutants that run off the land.

Mud flats around the bay’s fringe are exposed at low tide. Although these flats are barren of visible vegetation, they are teeming with life.  Fiddler crabs, clams, and worms, which burrow in the mud, supply a veritable feast for birds wading at low tide.

More information about salt marshes can be found in the brochure "Florida's Salt Marshes" (PDF, 328 KB).
Mudflat in front of mangroves and salt marsh
© Lindsay Cross
Oysters are immobile shellfish that filter water as they feed. Their gray-white shells are irregular in shape.  Live oysters and dead oyster shells form mounds on the bay floor, creating bars or reefs.  Most prevalent near river mouths and in sections of the bay that receive a steady diet of fresh water, oyster bars attract adult snook and redfish, making them popular fishing spots.

Exposed oyster bar
Exercise caution in these areas.  Oyster bars may severely damage boat hulls and are treacherous for those on foot.

Shellfish harvesting is regulated in Florida.  For information on seasonal closures, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at www.floridaaquaculture.com  For size and bag limits, visit FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management.

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