Tampa Bay has been designated a "Climate-Ready Estuary" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of our work to enhance the ability of coastal wetlands to adapt to the effects of rising seas.
Part of this adaptation is ensuring that habitat restoration projects leave room for newly created habitats to migrate landward over time, as waters rise and move inland. Examples of how communities around the Gulf of Mexico are attempting to accommodate climate change in habitat restoration can be found in our Gulf Coast Community Handbook published in 2012.
More recently, we are advancing research to better understand and quantify the value of the bay's salt marshes, mangroves and seagrass beds in storing carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This "Coastal Blue Carbon" study, being financed by a grant from the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund with additional support from NOAA, was highlighted in the President's updated Climate Action Plan released in Fall 2014.
We also created, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, a computer model that projects sea level rise in the watershed under varying scenarios, adaptation strategies and time periods. Intended for city and county planners, the model allows users to see possible sea level rise of .5 meters to 2.0 meters over a time period of 2025-2100, and how that rise would impact shorelines with or without protection of manmade structures.
The "Chasing The Waves" photo exhibit helps citizens visualize how rising seas might impact structures and shorelines. This compelling collection of photos taken locally and worldwide during extremely high "King Tides" was displayed at public venues across our 3-county area in 2013-2014.
In 2014, TBEP adopted the following policy statement about sea level rise and our role in supporting the region's response to the enormous challenges posed by our changing climate:
Tide gauges in Tampa Bay have recorded water levels rising at the rate of one inch per decade since the 1940s, a rate that scientists predict is likely to increase.
By the end of the century, rising water levels in Tampa Bay are projected to inundate considerable portions of low-lying shorelines in the watershed, resulting in either the degradation, change in composition, or loss of some key coastal habitats. These coastal habitats support commercially and recreationally valuable fish and wildlife resources.
Through research, technology transfer and public education, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will promote the scientific understanding of potential impacts of sea level rise on coastal habitats and support development of appropriate management actions to protect and improve the ecological and socio-economic resources of the estuary.