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Tampa Bay from a NASA satellite

Tampa Bay is a large natural harbor and estuary along the Gulf of Mexico on the west central coast of Florida, comprising Hillsborough Bay, Old Tampa Bay, Middle Tampa Bay, and Lower Tampa Bay.[1]

"Tampa Bay" is not the name of any municipality within the state of Florida. This misconception probably stems from the naming of several professional sports franchises (including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Rays) whose names represent the collective Tampa Bay Area, the hub of which is the city of Tampa, Florida [2]



Natural history

Approximately 6,000 years ago, the bay formed as a brackish drowned river valley type[3] estuary with a wide mouth connecting it to the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to that time, it was a large fresh water lake, possibly fed by the Floridan Aquifer through natural springs. [4] Though the exact process of the lake-to-bay transformation is not completely understood, the leading theory is that rising seas levels following the last ice age coupled with the formation of a massive sink hole near the current mouth of the bay created a connection between the lake and the gulf. [5]

Human habitation

Humans have lived near the shores of Tampa Bay for millennia, possibly as long as 12,000 to 14,000 years. The first local people to fully adapt to a sea-side lifestyle was the Manasota culture, beginning around 5,000 - 6,000 years ago and eventually evolving into the Weeden Island culture [6]. Approximately 1,100 years ago, the Tocobaga developed near present-day Safety Harbor along Old Tampa Bay. These were the people living in the area at the time of first contact with Europeans.[7]

Spanish maps dated as early as 1584 identifies Tampa Bay as Baya de Spirito Santo[8]. A map dated 1695 identifies the area as Bahia Tampa[9]. Later maps dated 1794[10] and 1800[11] show the bay divided with three different names, Tampa Bay, Hillsboro Bay and the overall name of Bay of Spiritu(o) Santo. The map maker's use of Bay of Spirito Santo seems to have given over to the use of either Tampa Bay alone or the use of both Tampa Bay and Hillsboro Bay as early as 1833[12]

Geography and Ecology

A view of Tampa Bay from I-275, looking south. The industrial buildings are located near St. Petersburg, Florida

Tampa Bay is Florida's largest open-water estuary, extending over 1031 square km.[13] and forming coastlines of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties. The freshwater sources of the Bay are distributed among over a hundred small tributaries, rather than a single river.[14]

Beginning the reversal of decades of unrestricted pollution, the bay was designated an estuary of national significance by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, for its fringe of mangrove and its prolific mud flats: more than 200 species of fish are to be found in Tampa Bay and 25 species of birds make it their year-round home. The warm water outfalls of power plants bordering the bay draw one out of every six endangered manatees to spend the winter. Equally significant though less immediately visible is the role of the Bay's waters as nurseries for shrimp and crabs, as well as less commercial invertebrates.

Two National Wildlife Refuges are located in Tampa Bay: Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge and the refuge on Egmont Key. Most of the smaller islands in the Bay are off-limits to the public, due to their fragile ecology and their use as nesting sites for brown pelicans, herons, egrets, Roseate spoonbills, cormorants and others. The Tampa Bay Estuary Program keeps watch over the Bay's health.[15]


Due in large part to the Port of Tampa and the dredging of more than eighty miles of deep-water shipping channels, seaborne commerce has historically been a large part of the Tampa Bay Area’s economy. The area boasts the largest port in Florida and the 10th largest in the nation – the Port of Tampa. The port accommodates half of Florida’s cargo in the form of bulk, break bulk, roll-on/roll-off, refrigerated and container cargo. The port also has a large ship repair and building industry, and recently expanded cruise facilities.

The Port of Manatee, with more refrigerated dockside space than any other Gulf of Mexico port, is the closest of the three Tampa Bay deepwater ports to the Panama Canal. It is also one of the state's busiest, ranking fifth among Florida's fourteen seaports in total annual cargo tonnage.

The Port of St. Petersburg is home to a U.S. Coast Guard station. The smallest of Florida’s ports, it operates as a landlord port managed by the city of St. Petersburg.


Bridges that cross Tampa Bay

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kunneke, J.T., and T.F. Palik, 1984. "Tampa Bay environmental atlas", U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. 85(15), page 3. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  4. ^ Holocene and Pleistocene Marine and Non-marine Sediment from Tampa Bay, Florida
  5. ^ Depths detail bay's beginnings
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "University of Georgia Libraries, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscript Library: 1584 map of La Florida". Retrieved April 27, 2009.  
  9. ^ "University of Georgia Libraries, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscript Library: 1695 Spanish Map". Retrieved April 27, 2009.  
  10. ^ "Historical Map Archive: The Peninsula and Gulf of Florida, or New Bahama Channel, with the Bahama Islands".,Description),cat(Name,Description)&style=simple/view-dhtml.xsl. Retrieved April 27, 2009.  
  11. ^ "University of Georgia Libraries, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscript Library: An exact map of North and South Carolina & Georgia, with East and West Florida". Retrieved April 27, 2009.  
  12. ^ "Historical Map Archive: 1933 Map of Florida by A. Finley, Philidelphia".,Description),cat(Name,Description)&style=simple/view-dhtml.xsl. Retrieved April 27, 2009.  
  13. ^ The Bay averages only 11 feet (3.4 m) deep, however (Tampa Bay Estuary Program website).
  14. ^ GulfBase: Tampa Bay and Keys
  15. ^ Tampa Bay Estuary Program website.

External links

Coordinates: 27°45′45″N 82°32′45″W / 27.7625°N 82.54583°W / 27.7625; -82.54583


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