Seafloor habitats, such as seagrass beds, provide essential habitat for fish and marine mammals. For many years, the study of seagrass vitality has been a priority for scientists and resource managers working in Tampa Bay. Seafloor habitats are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality. Like a canary in a coal mine, seagrass can serve as an ecological indicator of estuary health. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, seagrass gradually died in Tampa Bay. This loss has been attributed to a rise in urbanization and an increase in nutrient loading into the bay. Better treatment of industrial wastewater and runoff beginning in the 1980s resulted in the continuous recovery of seagrass beds. However, in the mid-1990s, the recovery began to level off in areas where good water quality was expected to support continued seagrass recovery, demonstrating
that nutrient loading may be only one factor impacting seagrass health. Researchers now are trying to determine what might be affecting the recovery of seagrass in these areas. Currently, little is understood about the effects that other aspects of urbanization and natural change, such as groundwater and sediment quality, might have on seagrass vitality. This segment of the Tampa Bay integrated science study is intended to identify, quantify, and develop models that illustrate the impact that urbanization may have on seafloor habitat distribution, health, and restoration.