Tampa Bay Critical Coastal Habitat Assessment

by Ryan Moyer

The Coastal Wetlands research group at FWRI has recently partnered with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) to install four permanent coastal wetland monitoring transects on public lands in Pinellas and Manatee Counties. The project will also produce a written methods manual, accompanied by a short visual video manual to help train other agencies and organizations in hopes that similar monitoring protocols can be adopted for future wetland monitoring statewide. The work uses a continuous transect approach combined with random quadrat placement in order to quantify wetland vegetation along a gradient from open water to adjacent upland forest. High-precision elevation data was also collected along to the transect to establish the relationship of wetland elevation to mean sea level at each site. Pending the availability of future funding, each transect will be revisited every 3 – 5 years in order to document changes in plant community structure or ecological zonation in response to climate change, sea-level rise, or other ecosystem stressors.

In the summer of 2016, transect sites were established at Harbor Palms park in Palm Harbor, Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Fort DeSoto in Pinellas County, and Cockroach Bay in Manatee County, FL. The four sites established by the Coastal Wetlands team at FWRI compliment five additional sites that were installed and surveyed by TBEP in 2015 at various locations in Hillsborough County. Together, the nine permanent monitoring transects represent one of the most comprehensive ecosystem-scale wetland monitoring programs in the State of Florida. Field surveys were completed in December 2016, and work is currently focused on analyzing field data and producing the written and video training manuals.