Tampa Bay is the home waters of our sailing vessel, Lionheart, and Olde World Sailing Line. We ply these waters 12-months a year and host guests from Tampa to London. Though we love the Bay and its sea life, I think we too often take for granted these precious gems in our own backyard. Allow me to boast a little about our home waters.
Tampa Bay is the largest open-water estuary in Florida, extending over 400 square miles. Its beautiful coastlines grace the waterfronts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties. Hundreds of small tributaries funnel fresh water into the Bay through rivers, such as the Hillsborough, Alafia, Manatee, and Little Manatee rivers. The blending of fresh water with seawater from the Gulf makes Tampa Bay one of Florida’s most important estuaries, designated as an “Estuary of National Significance” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Many of Lionheart’s guests ask why the waters of Tampa Bay are almost a tea color, rather than the blues of the Gulf. The Bay’s color is due to the very freshwater rivers that feed it. Mangroves growing along the banks of these rivers and streams, as well as mangroves lining the shores of the Bay itself, produce coffee-colored tannic acid. As you sail down the Bay toward the Gulf, the water becomes increasingly blue and green, as the Gulf’s seawater over shadows the brackish tannic-tint of upper Bay waters.
Although Tampa Bay is the largest bay in Florida, it is relatively shallow at an average depth of only 15 feet. The ship’s channels, of course, have been dredged much deeper. The sand and silt from the dredging operations have built beautiful islands all along the channels, many of which are designated as bird sanctuaries.
The mouth of Tampa Bay where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico is guarded by the magnificent Egmont Key, home to some of the most beautiful beaches on Florida’s west coast. The island is accessible only by boat. Egmont is a natural island, found in the logbooks of early explorers, such as Hernando De Soto. It was here in Tampa Bay that De Soto began his extensive 1539 exploration of what would become the southeast United States. Be sure to visit the De Soto National Park, in Bradenton. The park marks the landing site of De Soto’s ships and contains a museum and walkways throughout the mangrove-lined cove.
I hope this blog has been interesting and informative. Please also see my June, 2013 blog on the sea life of Tampa Bay (“Tampa Bay Sailing Eco Tours”).