I have always enjoyed being around the water. I grew up in Michigan, where water is prevalent, and my family spent most of our vacations on various beaches. Although much of my time on the water has been spent in freshwater environments, my family took frequent vacations to the East Coast, so I am familiar with the ocean as well. I like being around water so much that my college's proximity to the water was an important factor in my decision to go there.
My school, Eckerd College, is located on Tampa Bay. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metro area is one of the largest municipalities in the nation (Tampa Bay Business Journal), and Pinellas County (the peninsula which forms the western boundary of the bay) is the most densely populated county in Florida (“Pinellas County Population”). Clearly, the bay is a very popular area and it serves as a boating destination for everyone from recreational fishermen to commercial cruise lines. Unfortunately, this amount of human activity threatens to damage the bay's ecosystem.
When you are surrounded by water, you can't help but feel a concern about its health. One of the things I noticed when I got to school was the mangroves. Mangroves are very common in Tampa Bay as they are one of Florida's true native plants (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Mangroves play a vital role in coastal ecosystems. They regulate and cycle nutrients in the water and provide a habitat for a diverse group of organisms (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Mangroves line much of the Florida coast and are home to provide nesting areas for birds, hatcheries for crustaceans and fish, and food for many types of organisms (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). In addition, they prevent coastal erosion and protect the coast from storm surges and flooding. Mangroves are found on coastlines, in close proximity to humans. This means that mangroves end up catching the litter that people dispose of. As soon as I noticed the mangroves, I also noticed the trash. Debris is everywhere, everything from styrofoam cups to aluminum cans to plastic bottles and other items that are no longer recognizable. Even the mangrove islands that have been designated as nature preserves (and are not open to people) are not spared. There is still tons of trash caught in the mangrove roots and it is visible from a distance. Obviously this is harmful to the marine environment, posing threats to all types of organisms, from fish and turtles and birds to microscopic plankton. Destruction of mangroves by any means would cause major problems for coastal environments, and not just from an ecological standpoint. Loss of mangroves would greatly diminish fisheries in the area (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). The threat to mangroves is a real one; primarily due to human activity, Tampa Bay has lost over 44% of its costal wetland acreage in the past 100 years (Florida Department of Environmental Protection ). This includes Mangroves and salt marshes. It is important that we do something to reduce or stop the continued decline of the mangrove ecosystem because it is vital to the protection of marine life and the shoreline that people cherish.
“Tampa Bay in top 20 of metro population ranking”.Tampa Bay Business Journal. Bizjournals.com. 24 June 2011. Web. 22 April 2012.
“Pinellas County Population”. JWB Children's Services Council of Pinellas County, 2010. Web. 22 April 2012.
“What are Mangroves?”. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 19 July 2011. Web. 22 April 2012.