Tampa Bay Estuary Program



About the Tampa Bay Estuary

Aerial View of Shell Key Preserve in Pinellas County

Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary, stretches 398 square miles at high tide. Popular for sport and recreation, the bay also supports one of the world's most productive natural systems. Estuaries like Tampa Bay, where salt water from the sea and fresh water from rivers and uplands mix, are nurseries for young fish, shrimp, and crabs. More than 70 percent of all fish, shellfish, and crustaceans spend some critical stage of their development in these nearshore waters, protected from larger predators that swim the open sea.

Wildlife abounds along the shores of Tampa Bay. As many as 40,000 pairs of birds - from the familiar brown pelican to the colorful roseate spoonbill - nest in Tampa Bay every year. Others, including sandpipers and white pelicans, are seasonal visitors. The bay is also home to dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees.

After decades of pollution, Tampa Bay is coming back to life, again assuming its position as the shimmering economic and environmental centerpiece of the vibrant Southwest Florida region.

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