A Portrait of the Tampa Bay Estuary
1. Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida, encompassing
nearly 400 square miles and bordering three counties -- Hillsborough, Manatee and
Pinellas. The bay's sprawling watershed covers a land area nearly five times as large, at
2,200 square miles.
2. More than 100 tributaries flow into Tampa Bay, including dozens of
meandering, brackish-water creeks and four major rivers -- the Hillsborough, Alafia,
Manatee and Little Manatee.
3. A single quart of bay water may contain as many as 1 million
phytoplankton -- microscopic, single-celled plants that are an essential thread in the
"who eats who" marine food web.
4. More than 200 species of fish are found in Tampa Bay, including the
popular snook, redfish and spotted sea trout.
5. Mangrove-blanketed islands in Tampa Bay support the most diverse
colonial waterbird nesting colonies in North America, annually hosting 40,000 pairs of 25
different species of birds, from the familiar white ibis and great blue heron to the regal
reddish egret -- the rarest heron in the nation.
6. Each square meter of bay sediment contains an average of 10,000
animals -- mostly tiny, burrowing worms, crustaceans and other mud-dwellers that are known
as benthic invertebrates. The most numerous creature in the bay sediment is a primitive,
fish-like invertebrate about two inches long called branchiostoma.
7. On average, Tampa Bay is only 12 feet deep. Because it is so shallow,
manmade shipping channels have been dredged to allow large ships safe passage to the Port
of Tampa and other bay harbors. The largest of these, the main shipping channel, is 43
feet deep and 40 miles long.
8. The Port of Tampa is Florida's largest port and consistently ranks
among the top 10 ports nationwide in trade activity. It contributes billions annually to
the region's economy.
9. More than 4 billion gallons of oil, fertilizer components and other
hazardous materials pass through Tampa Bay each year.