Seagrass in Tampa Bay
The importance of underwater forests

What is seagrass? Seagrasses are flowering plants that live underwater and are mostly found in protected bays and lagoons and coastal waters of Florida. They are limited in their depth by water clarity because they require light and they also produce oxygen, similar to plants on the land. 

image: seagrass sprig closeup
image: aerial, TBW boat in seagrass beds

Why are seagrasses important?

  • Seagrass communities serve as nurseries for juvenile fish, crabs, and shrimp that later move offshore, as well as provide habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish.
  • Seagrass beds are feeding grounds for a variety of species such as the Florida Manatee, various species of turtles, sharks, and rays. These animals forage in the seagrass, feeding on the grass itself or on the smaller creatures that inhabit the grasses. Various bird species, such as herons, roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, and osprey also feed in the grass flats.
  • Seagrasses serve to improve water quality by reducing nutrients in the water column, and they are important components in energy and nutrient cycles, as well as estuarine and coastal food webs.
  • Seagrass communities in Tampa Bay provide vital habitat for recreationally and commercially important fish and invertebrate species.

What are the primary species of seagrasses in Tampa Bay?

Here in Tampa Bay, three species of seagrasses make up the majority of our habitats. These three species are sometimes found mixed together within one area, but typically they compete with each other and are forced to grow in certain areas and depths.

illustration: shoal grass

Shoal Grass

Halodule wrightii

illustration: turtle grass

Turtle Grass

Thalassia testudinum

illustration: manatee grass

Manatee Grass

Syringodium filliforme

Illustrations copyright Bazany Design.

What does Tampa Bay Watch do?

Seagrass Restoration

To support the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s management goal of maintaining 38,000 acres of seagrass in Tampa Bay, it is important to explore opportunities for ongoing seagrass restoration projects. Tampa Bay Watch has a history of conducting several successful transplanting projects throughout the bay by pulling grass from a permitted donor area for transplanting into the permitted project area. Please contact Serra Herndon at sherndon@tampabaywatch.org for more information.

Seagrass Monitoring

Tampa Bay Watch participates as a member of the Tampa Bay Interagency Seagrass Monitoring Program which conducts annual seagrass surveys at about 60 Tampa Bay bay-wide fixed length transects. The program, a joint effort among several Tampa Bay agencies, takes a look at trends of the Tampa Bay seagrass communities at the species level.

Links for more information:

Did you know...

An adult manatee can eat 150 pounds of seagrass and algae every day!

Email Serra Herndon with questions about this program:

sherndon@tampabaywatch.org