October 27, 2008

Protecting Tampa Bay

Betty Lipe, Educational Instructor, Pinellas County Extension

What is being done to protect and improve Tampa Bay? During the 1950’s significant damage was done to the natural habitats in Tampa Bay through uncontrolled development and pollution. Many of the fishery industries that depended on the bay were lost. In 1990 the nomination and designation of the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program provided the platform to assist the community to develop a plan for Tampa Bay.

They defined the following problems with the bay:
· Water quality deterioration
· Reduction of living resources
· Lack of community awareness
· Increased user conflicts and impacts from various recreational, industrial, and navigation needs
· Urban development
· Lack of agency coordination and response
· Lack of circulation and flushing
· Hazardous/toxic contamination.

The new estuary program began to organize the information and get stakeholders involved. They worked to define species or biological communities which could be used as “indicators” of
functioning bay ecosystems. The bay scallop was identified as one of these indicators.

The loss of submerged aquatic vegetative “sea grass” habitat stood out as the premier concern of all involved. In 1993 targets for restoration and protection of sea grass habitat were approved. The full report on the Environmental Monitoring Program is available at . Much remains to be done in the protection and improvement of the bay, but the bay scallop is proving to be one of the species on the road to recovery.

The bay scallop (Argopecten irradians) lived on the bottom, in and near eel grass. As the grass disappeared, so did the bay scallop. The water quality also affected the spawn and growth of the baby scallops. Since scallops are filter feeders, they need non polluted water to live in. Unlike oysters that can filter out the toxins and store them in their body, the toxins in the water kill the bay scallop. In 2005 Tampa Bay Watch and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program teamed up to sponsor “The Great Bay Scallop Search”, a resource-monitoring program where volunteers snorkel and search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and lower Tampa Bay. The purpose of this program was to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Volunteers found only one live scallop in 2005 due to the severe red tide. Seventeen were found in 2006 and 555 scallops were found in 2007. The 2008 Great Bay Scallop hunt occurred on August 16, 2008 and 664 scallops were found alive. As the bay scallops return, we know the bay is getting better for all inhabitants.

Open harvest for bay scallops begins along Florida’s Gulf Coast on July 1 and runs through September 10. Open harvest areas extend from the Pasco-Hernando County line and north. We do not have open harvest in Pinellas or Hillsborough County. Several years ago, the open harvest was contained to Suwannee County and northward. It is illegal to possess bay scallops on water outside the open harvest areas and it is also illegal to land scallops outside the open harvest areas. For further information on all the rules and regulations on collecting bay scallops go to

The scallops that you purchase in the grocery store as bay scallops are usually commercially fished Argopecten irradians from north Florida or further up the Atlantic coast, or Euvola raveneli, which is commercially trawled from deeper water in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

No matter whether you collect your own scallops or get them at the grocery store remember that Tampa Bay once supported hundreds of these bivalves and hopefully one day residents of Tampa Bay will be able to harvest them again to enjoy.

Pinellas County 4-H recognizes the importance of our marine and aquatic habitats through 4-H project work and community service activities. Across the state, 4-H members are taking part in workshops to prepare for the 4-H State Marine Ecology Contest. For further information on the 4-H Marine and Aquatic programs, contact Betty Lipe at or 582-2528.

Environmental Protection Agency:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission:

Tampa Bay Watch:

No comments:

Post a Comment