Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida. An estuary is a place where land and sea meet and where freshwater streams meet the sea's salt water. The special conditions created by this "meeting" and "mixing" are vital for many plant and animal species that live in estuaries. The quiet, shallow waters of estuaries often serve as "nurseries" for fish and other animals. If the water is polluted, then these young and fragile fish, shrimp and crabs will not live.
The fresh water that flows into an estuary is essential. Many of the young animals cannot live in water that is too salty. In an estuary, the fresh water mixes with the salt water and makes it a livable environment for these young animals. In the Hillsborough River Watershed, the fresh water that flows into Tampa Bay begins in the Green Swamp. If that fresh water becomes polluted while flowing down into Tampa Bay, or if there is not enough fresh water to flow into the bay, these young animals could be harmed. It is amazing to think that the Green Swamp, 54 miles away, is so important to Tampa Bay!
In addition to finding young fish, shrimp and crabs in estuaries, you can also find young and adult manatees, ospreys and horseshoe crabs. Estuaries are also home to a number of plants, trees and seagrasses. These plants and trees are very important because they filter out pollution from the water before it reaches the sea. They also provide homes and feeding areas to the animals who live in the estuary. Trees such as the red mangrove protect sand on the estuary shores from being pulled out into the water by waves. This is because the mangroves' large roots act as anchors, holding the sand in place. There are three types of mangroves in the estuary: red, black and white.
This was the last stop on our trip. We hope you enjoyed the excursion and learning about watersheds! We welcome your feedback, so please take a few moments to provide your input and share your story!