Tampa Bay lost more than 5,400 acres of seagrass between 2018 and 2020, according to a survey done by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
That loss equates to 13 percent of the bay's lush bed of grass. And while researchers say the die-off was found throughout the body of water, the majority of the loss -- around 3,200 acres -- happened north, in Old Tampa Bay.
It's not the first time Old Tampa Bay's water quality has been called into question this year. In March, the Tampa Estuary Program released a report detailing how -- for the sixth straight year -- the northern portion of the bay had seen an uptick in harmful nutrients that have contributed to yearly algae blooms.
The program's assistant director, Maya Burke, said at the time that the source of the problem could be traced back to the various bridges and causeways that sprawl across the bay.
The Gandy, Bayside, and Howard Frankland Bridge, along with the Courtney Campbell Causeway, are preventing water from naturally flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico, where the excess nutrients can be flushed out.
Seagrass wears many hats in an estuary's ecosystem. It not only feeds marine life, like manatees and sea turtles, but its extensive root system stabilizes the sea bottom creating a barrier for storms.
Aerial photos from the estuary program showed that only 35,240 acres of seagrass remained in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has been seen as a success story for seagrass recovery. Back in the 1970s, years of pollution and mismanagement had the bay on the verge of collapsing. Only 21,653 acres of seagrass existed at that time.
Huge efforts went into curbing nutrient pollution which resulted in a record-high 41,655 acres of seagrass being documented in 2016.
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