Since 2009, the District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program has been working to design and construct the largest coastal restoration project ever performed for Tampa Bay. This project is a cooperative effort between SWIM and the Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department.
Located on three public parcels in the southeastern reaches of Tampa Bay (adjacent to “Cockroach Bay”), the project involves sites that historically were coastal pine flatwoods, scattered hardwood hammocks, and various estuarine and freshwater habitats. Use of the upland areas for agricultural purposes and sand/shell mining removed the majority of the historic plant communities and habitat values from these parcels.
The project involves the restoration of approximately 1,043 acres of various coastal habitats, including 645 acres of uplands, such as pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks, and 398 acres of various estuarine and freshwater habitats. The estuarine habitats include: 1) open water tidal channels and lagoons, 2) low and high intertidal marshes, 3) islands, 4) sand/mud flats, 5) deeper water “holes,” 6) natural limestone artificial reefs, and 7) more than 16 miles of new Tampa Bay shorelines. Cascading freshwater wetlands include both permanent pools as well as ephemeral freshwater habitats.
In addition, the project creatively helps restore the area’s hydrology, improves the bay’s water quality via some stormwater treatment, creates fisheries habitats including salinity gradients and low-salinity habitats, and supplements important bird nesting and feeding habitats.
Equally important, the project design will help accommodate projected sea-level rise. This project complements the SWIM/Hillsborough County Cockroach Bay Ecosystem Restoration Project located on the north side of Cockroach Bay, a 500-acre habitat restoration project completed in 2012.