Tampa Bay – A Natural Marvel Home to Countless Fish, Birds, Mammals and Plant Life

Tampa fishing - Tampa Bay

Image courtesy of “Ebyabe” via Wikimedia Commons

Tampa fishing charters discuss basic facts about this large estuary that supports many popular gamefish species

For someone who has spent a long time fishing and exploring Tampa Bay, it’s an amazing place teeming with all kinds of life ranging from the most basic phytoplankton all the way up the food chain to birds of prey, dolphins and large gamefish.

Although the area around Tampa Bay is home to over 4 million people, certain spots around this large estuary look pretty much like they did back when indigenous cultures lived off of these waters and surrounding lands.

Tampa Bay is in fact a combination of several different estuary systems bordering three counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee) on the west coast of Florida.

We invite you to continue reading for some brief facts about this amazing natural marvel, including general facts, ecology and its economic impact on central Florida.

General Facts about Tampa Bay

Tampa fishing charters - Tampa Bay

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • The bay itself is a combination of four separate bays – Old Tampa Bay, Hillsboro Bay, Middle Tampa Bay and Lower Tampa Bay.
  • The entire system spans over 400 square miles, making it the largest estuary in the state of Florida. Watch the video from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the bottom of this article explaining what an estuary is.
  • Several rivers and small creeks feed into the Tampa Bay system, including the Hillsborough River, Alafia River, Manatee and Little Manatee rivers. Smaller tributaries include Bullfrog Creek, Rocky Creek, Alligator Creek and Little Tarpon Canal. In total, over 100 rivers and streams empty into Tampa Bay.
  • When factoring in the entire drainage basin, Tampa Bay covers over 2200 square miles in 5 counties in west central Florida.
  • From the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay extends 35 miles inland and is 5 to 10 miles wide in most spots.
  • Despite what many think, Tampa Bay is relatively shallow with an average depth of 12 feet. Shallower spots will have extensive seagrass beds that are home to many aquatic species ranging from shrimp to manatees and redfish.

Origins, Ecology and Wildlife of Tampa Bay

  • The bay wasn’t always an estuary. Around 6000 years ago, it was a big freshwater lake. However, many scientists believe rising sea levels coupled with the opening of a massive sinkhole opened up the lake to the Gulf of Mexico and therefore led to a mixing of fresh- and saltwater.

Tampa fishing - mangroves

  • Surrounding natural shoreline and islands throughout the bay are mangrove wetlands. One of the largest intact mangrove habitats is the Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County.
  • These mangroves provide vital nesting areas for a wide variety of birds, including Roseate Spoonbills, Cormorants, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron and the rare Regal Reddish Egret. These nesting areas are the largest of their kind in the United States. According to figures from Tampa Bay Estuary Program, over 40,000 pairs of wading and shorebirds from 25 distinct species nest in the mangroves bordering the bay.
  • Tampa Bay also contains over 200 distinct fish species, including popular gamefish like Snook, Red Drum and Speckled Trout. The bay supports a large number of commercial and recreational anglers, including numerous fishing charters.
  • Many endangered species live in the waters or rely on Tampa Bay for survival, including the West Indian Manatee and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle among others. In the winter months, manatees will migrate to the warm water discharges of surrounding power plants. Sea turtles nest from April through October.

Human habitation of the Tampa Bay region

  • Archeological records show that humans first settled the area over 14,000 years ago and likely inhabited the Tampa Bay area when it was still a lake. The earliest evidence of human settlement is found at the Harney Flats site around 10 miles west of present-day downtown Tampa.
  • The first evidence of inhabitants of what we now know as Tampa Bay was the Weeden Island culture from approximately 5,000 years ago. These tribes and more recent Safety Harbor culture lived almost exclusively off of the bay’s abundant fish, shrimp and crabs.
  • The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore the Tampa Bay region, but they were unable to find gold or silver so they did not stay very long. Due to their indifference and a steep decline of the native cultures from disease, Tampa Bay hardly had any human inhabitants for over 200 years.
  • In 1819, Florida was acquired by the United States. Several forts and trading posts were established in the area in the ensuing decades (Fort Brooke, Fort Harrison and Braden’s Town). These forts would eventually become the cities of Tampa, Clearwater and Bradenton respectively.
  • In the 20th century, channels were dredged to allow shipping. The Port of Tampa is the largest port in Florida and one of the 10 largest in the entire U.S. in terms of net trade activity.
  • The area also experienced an explosion in population in the 20th century due to its mild winters and other reasons mentioned above. By 2010, over 4 million people called the Tampa Bay region their permanent home.
  • Although the bay continues to support a vast web of life, it has its challenges. By the 1970s for example, almost 80% of the bay’s seagrass beds were gone. Runoff from surrounding homes, industrial plants and farms significantly degraded water quality. Private and public efforts though have been successful in reversing this decline. Despite the bay area’s continued population growth over the last 30 years, there have been marked improvements in water quality and seagrass coverage. Challenges do remain though.

As you can see from our brief summary here, the Tampa Bay estuary is a diverse ecological system that supports a wide variety of birds, fish and mammals. If you visit the area, especially in the winter months when other places are frigid, you’ll soon understand why the area is so appealing to retirees and many industries.

Although fishing charters are small part of the Tampa economy, they play a significant role in monitoring the health of the bay and showing residents and visitors what makes the area so special. If you’re looking for a way to get a first-hand look at the bay while enjoying some world-class fishing, visit http://www.flatsandbay.com/ today for a glimpse of one of many Tampa fishing charters.


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