Red tide may occur naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, but its intensification and devastation are preventable. Voters have asked their elected leaders to stop pollution, but lawmakers have failed Florida. Voters have also asked their lawmakers to reduce carbon emissions, but again, they have refused to act.
The consequences of pollution have lasting impacts. It’s taken years of hard work to restore Tampa Bay’s seagrasses. When we don’t prevent pollution or act on climate, we rob hard-fought restoration efforts.
Habitat restoration is no easy task. Returning an ecosystem to its natural functions can be challenging and expensive. Scientists have restored many areas across the state, including Tampa Bay’s seagrasses.
Seagrass is a sentinel aquatic species. It is food for turtles and manatees and provides shelter for small fish and crabs. The health of Tampa Bay’s seagrass affects the health of the area’s marine life and economy.
In 1970, Tampa Bay’s seagrasses started to decline due to unchecked pollution and horrible water quality. Algae blanketed the bay’s surface and fish and bird populations declined as much as 90%. As the ecosystem balanced on the brink of collapse, community members and scientists knew that something had to be done.
In 1996, scientists aimed to restore seagrass coverage to the level that existed in 1950, approximately 38,000 acres. Scientists set specific water clarity and nutrient reduction targets for the Bay. This massive restoration effort consisted of 500+ projects to restore water quality. By 2014, scientists exceeded their target seagrass coverage and the Tampa Bay community celebrated. Seagrass restoration has provided a huge return on investment. Restoration has also improved the region’s tourism and fishing based economy. It has also boosted recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
Right now, red tide is wrecking the water quality in Tampa Bay, which will have a lasting effect on the bay’s seagrass. Pollutants are like a buffet for red tide. And warmer waters provide an environment that boosts its growth. As red tide explodes and expands, the surface blooms block the sunlight that plants need. When algae die and break down, it consumes oxygen, leading to less oxygen in the water for fish to breathe. Fish suffocate and species that eat aquatic plants starve to death.
Tampa Bay’s seagrass restoration efforts have been successful. But to maintain and continue progress, we must remain vigilant. Florida’s Tampa Bay region is one of the fastest-growing populations in the state. To keep it beautiful, leaders must continue to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.