Environmental Management

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 401–415 | Cite as

Potential Impacts and Management Implications of Climate Change on Tampa Bay Estuary Critical Coastal Habitats

Article

Abstract

The Tampa Bay estuary is a unique and valued ecosystem that currently thrives between subtropical and temperate climates along Florida’s west-central coast. The watershed is considered urbanized (42 % lands developed); however, a suite of critical coastal habitats still persists. Current management efforts are focused toward restoring the historic balance of these habitat types to a benchmark 1950s period. We have modeled the anticipated changes to a suite of habitats within the Tampa Bay estuary using the sea level affecting marshes model under various sea level rise (SLR) scenarios. Modeled changes to the distribution and coverage of mangrove habitats within the estuary are expected to dominate the overall proportions of future critical coastal habitats. Modeled losses in salt marsh, salt barren, and coastal freshwater wetlands by 2100 will significantly affect the progress achieved in “Restoring the Balance” of these habitat types over recent periods. Future land management and acquisition priorities within the Tampa Bay estuary should consider the impending effects of both continued urbanization within the watershed and climate change. This requires the recognition that: (1) the Tampa Bay estuary is trending towards a mangrove-dominated system; (2) the current management paradigm of “Restoring the Balance” may no longer provide realistic, attainable goals; (3) restoration that creates habitat mosaics will prove more resilient in the future; and (4) establishing subtidal and upslope “refugia” may be a future strategy in this urbanized estuary to allow sensitive habitat types (e.g., seagrass and salt barren) to persist under anticipated climate change and SLR impacts.

Keywords

Tampa Bay Sea level rise Habitats 

Introduction

Coastal ecosystems are subject to diverse pressures and drivers both naturally and anthropogenically-derived. Climate change, and its associated impacts to flora and fauna, will be an added pressure that will affect the sustainability of coastal ecosystems in the future (Scavia et al. 2002; Day et al. 2008). Along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, several climate change drivers are anticipated to reshape coastal ecosystems as they are now known [Florida Oceans and Coastal Council (FOCC) 2009]. The ecosystems of Florida follow distinct ecoregions and the transition zone between temperate and subtropical climates bisects the peninsula. This, along with the unique geomorphology of the coast, has led to distinct distributions of coastal habitats and communities (Myers and Ewel 1990). From the south to north, mangrove-dominated estuaries transition to salt marsh dominated ones along the climate transition zone. Inherent to these unique habitats along the coast are ecosystem services that benefit society and warrant future protection and restoration efforts (Barbier et al. 2011; Cichetti and Greening 2011; Russell et al. 2011).

Climate change is now widely regarded as one of the most pressing challenges facing society, particularly for those living along the coast. Its potential consequences are profound and far-reaching: melting terrestrial polar ice caps, rising sea level contributing to coastal flooding and erosion, increased frequency of severe weather, increases in ocean temperature and acidification, and rising incidences of marine diseases and harmful algal blooms that can devastate fisheries [International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007a, b; FOCC 2009]. With 1,200 miles of coastline and billions of dollars invested in coastal real estate and tourism, a warming climate with higher sea levels places Florida at significant risk (First American Corporation 2009). Higher average sea temperatures and changing precipitation patterns may have dramatic and widespread effects on coastal property and habitats. One possible result could be the development of more frequent and intense hurricanes (Elsner 2006) and hurricane-related flooding.

Climate change has already been documented in Florida. Average air temperatures have risen by about 1.1 °C in parts of Florida since the 1960s, with precipitation decreasing in southern Florida and increasing in central and the Panhandle regions [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 1997; Kelly and Gore 2008]. By 2100, summer temperatures in Florida could rise an additional 1.65–3.85 °C (Twilley et al. 2001). Warmer temperatures are expected to shift the geographic areas in which freezes occur, enabling subtropical plant species such as mangroves, several of which cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, to expand their ranges northward.

Perhaps more threatening to Florida’s fringing coastal habitats are potential impacts associated with the rise in global sea-level. Given a range of plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios, there is 90 % certainty that global sea level rise will be at least between 0.2 and 2 m by 2100 [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2012]. The wide range of this estimate is associated with the uncertainties of future ocean warming and ice sheet loss (Bindoff et al. 2007; NOAA 2012). Nonetheless, sea-level rise is expected to continue for centuries, even if greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized, due to the time scales of climate processes. So, sea level rise impacts will occur at some point in the future along Florida’s coast.

The impacts of rising sea-level on Florida habitats will depend on both the rate and magnitude of the rise. The current rate in Tampa Bay is about 2.36 cm per decade, based upon long-term, NOAA tide gage data from St. Petersburg, FL (NOAA 2013). As summarized by the FOCC (2009) and references therein, it appears probable that water depths will continue to increase within the bay’s current shoreline, and the shoreline itself will migrate landward in areas where manmade structures such as seawalls and bulkheads are not present to prevent such movement. Depending on the rate of sea level rise, seagrass, emergent tidal wetlands, and other coastal habitats may be able to persist by accreting vertically, migrating landward, or both. For instance, mangrove forests may be able to keep up with sea-level rise through accretion processes up to a rate of about 25 cm of rise per 100 years (Ellison 1993); however, other confounding processes related to climate change (e.g., barriers to migration, increased inundation, erosion and salinity conditions, etc.) may affect their ability to adapt to sea-level rise up to these levels (Gilman et al. 2008). Furthermore, if sea-level increases more rapidly than the biota can respond, these adaptive responses may not even be possible. Coastal habitats may also be lost in areas where manmade structures prevent landward migration and exacerbate wetland accretion processes (Williams et al. 1997; FOCC 2009).

Initial estimates of the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on coastal habitats in Florida were developed by Glick and Clough (2006) using the sea level affecting marshes model (SLAMM v.4). Results from that assessment indicated significant reductions in salt marsh (−86 %) and oligohaline marsh (−59 %) habitats, while mangroves were projected to increase by 166 % by 2100 (Glick and Clough 2006). If these estimates were realized, then the current restoration goals and targets for these habitat types in Tampa Bay would be profoundly unrealistic to achieve in the near- or long-term (Robison 2010). Further complicating these forecasted estimates was the lack of consideration for societal adaption strategies that would protect currently developed dry land or areas with significant infrastructure, capital investment, and societal assets. If an adaptation strategy to protect developed upland areas were employed in the Tampa Bay region, then it is likely that all critical coastal habitats, even mangroves, would be negatively impacted in the future. In effect, all coastal habitats would likely be prevented from landward migration under this adaptation strategy. Coastal areas where an upland protection strategy would likely be employed were initially developed by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council in 2006 (TBRPC 2006).

This paper discusses an update to the initial estimates of Glick and Clough (2006) using the most recent land use [Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) 2007], elevation (TBRPC 2009), and sea level rise scenarios (Bindoff et al. 2007; NOAA 2012) available for the Tampa Bay region using the SLAMM v.6.0.1 (2013). Glick and Clough (2006) initially estimated coastal habitat changes in Tampa Bay using national cover datasets, a single sea-level rise scenario (mean A1B; IPCC 2007a), and a single adaptation strategy (i.e., allowing coastal habitat migration to occur in response to sea level rise). Here, we present updated estimates of coastal habitat changes using local data sources, multiple sea-level-rise scenarios, and two divergent adaptation strategies (i.e., protecting currently developed, dry land from sea level rise impacts vs. allowing coastal habitat migration to occur in response to sea level rise). These refined estimates were then compared to established restoration goals for the Tampa Bay estuary, something not previously investigated by Glick and Clough (2006). Based upon these evaluations, recommendations for future protection and restoration of critical coastal habitats within the Tampa Bay estuary are discussed within an adaptive management context.

Study Area

Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest open-water estuary at approximately 1,000 km2, and its ~5,907 km2 watershed is fairly urbanized with a population >2.5 million (Fig. 1; Lewis and Estevez 1988; Wolfe and Drew 1990; Cichetti and Greening 2011). Roughly 42 % (2,455 km2) of the lands within the watershed have been developed (Fig. 1; SWFWMD 2007). However, emergent coastal wetland habitats still persist. Typical flora associated with these habitats include: mangroves (Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia germinans, Laguncularia racemosa, and Conosarpus erecta); polyhaline salt marsh (primarily Spartina alterniflora or Juncus roemerianus); meso- to oligohaline salt marsh (primarily J. roemerianus, Acrostichum danaeifolium, Typha domingensis, Cladium jamaicense, and Scirpus robustus), and salt barrens (primarily Salicornia bigelovii, Salicornia virginica, Monoanthochloe littoralis, and Limonium carolinianum) (Robison 2010). Beyond the Bay’s tidal extent, a mix of freshwater wetland types persist including hardwood swamps, cypress domes, and flatwoods marshes collectively referred to as coastal freshwater wetlands in this article (Robison 2010).
Fig. 1

Tampa Bay overview map depicting the distribution of different land use/land cover types using SLAMM categories 1–23 as of the initial condition year of 2007 (http://www.warrenpinnacle.com/prof/SLAMM). Categories were developed from Florida land use/land cover (SWFWMD 2006, 2007) and USFWS national wetland inventory (SWFWMD 2002) GIS files. Watershed boundaries for the major bay segments are depicted by the red lines (OTB Old Tampa Bay, HB Hillsborough Bay, MTB Middle Tampa Bay, LTB Lower Tampa Bay, BCB Boca Ciega Bay, TCB Terra Ceia Bay, MR Manatee River). The blue boundary line within the watershed inset depicts the extent of the SLAMM model input layers (Color figure online)

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) has employed a novel ecosystem management concept to protect and restore the suite of emergent coastal wetland habitats in the Tampa Bay estuary since the mid-1990s (Lewis and Robison 1996; Robison 2010; Cichetti and Greening 2011). The management paradigm of “Restoring the Balance” of critical coastal habitats that are important to the life histories of specific guilds of wildlife resources found within the estuary has led to coverage gains of critical coastal habitats (Lewis and Robison 1996; Robison 2010; Cichetti and Greening 2011). The “Restoring the Balance” paradigm attempts to focus future restoration efforts towards habitats that have been disproportionately lost since the 1950s—a reference pre-development benchmark period utilized for resource management in the Tampa Bay estuary (Tables 1, 2). The intended goal is to restore the relative proportion of each habitat to that observed in the benchmark period so that none of the habitat types create a “bottle-neck” in the life history of the different faunal guilds represented in the estuary. Paramount to achieving these targets in the future is maintaining existing habitat acreages. Global climate change and the anticipated rise in sea level have the potential to impact the distribution and coverage of existing and restored critical coastal habitats in the Tampa Bay estuary (IPCC 2007a; Robison 2010).
Table 1

Estimated coverage (km2) of critical coastal habitats during different time periods within the Tampa Bay estuary and the adopted, total restoration goal for each type based upon the “Restoring the Balance” paradigm employed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (Robison 2010)

Habitat type

ca. 1950 Benchmark period coverage (km2)

Current condition (2007) coverage (km2)

Adopted 2010, total protection and restoration coverage goal

Coastal freshwater wetlands

Insufficient data

848.28a

Protect existing acreage w/in 9.3 miles of coastline and opportunistically restore

Mangroveb

64.32

58.87

Protect existing acreage and opportunistically restore

Salt marshc

26.79

18.79

25.55

Salt barren

5.55

1.79

5.21

aEstimated coverage within the SLAMM modeling extent which extends past the 9.3 miles coastline buffer. Total coverage within the entire Tampa Bay watershed is 1082.91 km2

bIncludes predominately mangrove forests and pioneer polyhaline marsh habitats

cIncludes predominately meso- and oligohaline salt marsh habitats

Table 2

Input parameters used in the SLAMM v. 6.0.1 (2013) for the Tampa Bay watershed [based in part on information from NOAA tide gage, St. Petersburg (8726520), (NOAA 2013)]

Parameter

Value

Wetlands/NWI photo date (YYYY)

2007

DEM Date (YYYY)

2007

Direction offshore (n, s, e, w)

West

Historic trend (mm/year)

2.4

MTL-NAVD88 (m)

−0.1

GT great diurnal tide range (m)

0.7

Salt marsh elevation (m above MTL)

0.5

Marsh erosion rate (horz. m /year)

2

Swamp erosion rate (horz. m /year)

1

Tidal flat erosion rate (horz. m /year)

0.5

Regularly flood marsh accretion rate (mm/year)

1.6

Irregularly flooded marsh accretion rate (mm/year)

2.25

Tidal freshwater marsh accretion rate (mm/year)

3.75

Beach sedimentation rate (mm/year)

1.5

Frequency of overwash (years)

10

Use elevation pre-processor (true, false)

False

Accretion and erosion rates were adapted from Glick and Clough (2006)

Datasets and Methods

Land Use/Land Cover and Wetlands Inventory Data

At the time of study, the most recent SWFWMD land use/land cover (2007), seagrass coverage (2006), and US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetland Inventory (NWI; 1971–1992) GIS data were obtained from the SWFWMD and incorporated into the SLAMM (2012) inputs (SWFWMD 2002, 2006, 2007). The three vector shapefiles were merged together in ArcGIS 9.3 and recoded to represent the SLAMM land-cover categories according to Florida Land Use Cover/Classification Codes [FLUCCSCODES; Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) 1999] and US FWS NWI codes (Cowardin et al. 1979). The recoded data were visually inspected and corrected for classification accuracy based on spatial location. A final 10m ASCII raster was exported from the merged dataset using the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst tool for the Tampa Bay project area and used as input into the SLAMM.

Digital Elevation and Slope Model Inputs

An improved digital elevation model (DEM) for the Tampa Bay region based on corrected LiDAR data was obtained from the Florida Division of Emergency Management (TBRPC 2009). The DEM was developed to produce 2-foot contours with a vertical accuracy of 0.6 feet RMSE. A final, 10 m horizontal resolution DEM ASCII raster was exported from the original dataset in metric format using the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst tool for the Tampa Bay project area. This final 10 m DEM raster was then used to derive a final 10 m ASCII raster depicting slope using the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst tool for the Tampa Bay project area. Both the final 10 m DEM and slope ASCII rasters were used as SLAMM inputs.

Dike Information and Data

Information on SWFWMD-operated control structures was obtained from the SWFWMD (2002). Additional weir or salinity barrier structures were identified within the region based on local knowledge and a recently completed inventory project (Deitche and Dooris 2012). A 10 m horizontal resolution ASCII raster was developed from these combined data sources using the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst tool for dikes and salinity barriers within the Tampa Bay project area. Raster cells were coded as either 1 or 0 depending on whether a structure was present or not, respectively, within the modeling domain. The final raster file was input into the SLAMM.

Overall Modeling Approach

The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM 2013) was used to determine coastal habitat conversions and shoreline modifications in the Tampa Bay watershed. The SLAMM utilizes GIS raster datasets to simulate conversions of land cover classifications over time through five primary process algorithms (inundation, erosion, overwash, saturation, and accretion; SLAMM 2013). The model has been employed in various regions throughout the U.S. (e.g., Galbraith et al. 2002; Glick et al 2007; Craft et al. 2009; Geselbracht et al 2011). The SLAMM is best suited for simulating changes to emergent estuarine habitats and is currently unable to predict potential changes to submerged aquatic vegetation habitats due to sea level rise.

For our study, we used 2007 as the base year for comparisons (Fig. 1) and both fixed (i.e., 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 m) and varying IPCC (IPCC 2007a, b; i.e., mean A1B, A1F1, A1T, A2, B1, B2) sea level rise scenarios were simulated to the year 2100. Table 2 summarizes the SLAMM input parameters used in the analysis.

Model output for the year 2100 was summarized for the varying sea level rise scenarios relative to current conditions (2007, Fig. 1). Total acreages and comparative ratios of critical coastal habitats were developed for all of Tampa Bay and for the seven major bay segments recognized by the TBEP.

Results

Baywide by 2100, total critical coastal habitat coverage within the Tampa Bay watershed is estimated to decline with the impending effects of sea level rise. While overall total coverage losses are estimated regardless of whether two opposing adaptation strategies are implemented within the region (i.e., protecting currently developed dry land vs. allowing coastal habitats to migrate upslope), mangrove habitat coverage is expected to increase at the expense of losses to other habitats (Fig. 2). Coastal freshwater wetlands, salt marsh, and salt barren habitats are expected to decline by 2100 (Fig. 2) with coastal freshwater wetlands expected to experience the greatest total coverage losses (Table 3; Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Box plots depicting the range of estimated changes in critical coastal habitat acreages based on SLAMM (2013) scenarios of 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 m, mean A1B, mean A1F1, mean A1T, mean A2, mean B1, and mean B2 sea level rise by 2100 within the Tampa Bay estuary. Values represented within the box plots are the habitat coverage difference between the baseline year (2007) and 2100. Distributions above the dotted zero line represent a potential net increase in coverage, while those below the line represent a net decrease. Two adaptation strategies were considered in the SLAMM (2013) scenario runs (DLP Currently Developed Land Protected, HMA Coastal Habitat Migration Allowed to occur). Numbers arranged along the top border of the graph represent the current (2007) estimated acreage of each habitat within the modeling domain displayed in Fig. 1

Table 3

Summary of critical coastal habitat coverage and targets as estimated under current conditions (2007) and projected into the future (2100) using SLAMM (2013) relative to two adaptation strategies (allowing habitats to migrate with sea level rise vs. protecting currently developed dry land) for all of Tampa Bay

 

Coastal freshwater wetlands

Gain/(loss)

Mangroves

Gain/(loss)

Salt marshes

Gain/(loss)

Salt Barrens

Gain/(loss)

2010 Habitat master plan update target

Not defined

 

61

 

26

 

5

 

2007 Current condition

848

 

59

 

19

 

2

 

Adaptation strategy: Habitats allowed to migrate

 SLAMM scenario

  0.5 m SLR by 2100

813

(35)

102

44

16

(3)

1

(1)

  1.0 m SLR by 2100

800

(49)

143

84

4

(15)

0

(2)

  1.5 m SLR by 2100

790

(58)

125

66

2

(17)

0

(2)

  2.0 m SLR by 2100

783

(66)

128

69

2

(17)

0

(2)

  Mean-A1B

816

(32)

93

34

17

(2)

1

(0)

  Mean-A1F1

813

(35)

104

45

16

(3)

1

(1)

  Mean-A1T

817

(31)

91

32

17

(1)

1

(0)

  Mean-A2

815

(33)

96

38

17

(2)

1

(1)

  Mean-B1

819

(30)

87

28

18

(1)

2

(0)

  Mean-B2

817

(31)

90

31

17

(1)

2

(0)

Mean of all scenarios

808

(40)

106

47

13

(6)

1

(1)

Mean deviation from target

NA

45

(13)

(4)

Adaptation strategy: Currently developed dry land protected

 SLAMM scenario

  0.5 m SLR by 2100

816

(33)

85

26

16

(3)

1

(1)

  1.0 m SLR by 2100

803

(45)

94

35

4

(15)

0

(2)

  1.5 m SLR by 2100

794

(54)

43

(16)

2

(17)

0

(2)

  2.0 m SLR by 2100

787

(61)

33

(26)

1

(17)

0

(2)

  Mean-A1B

819

(30)

79

20

17

(2)

1

(0)

  Mean-A1F1

816

(33)

85

26

16

(3)

1

(1)

  Mean-A1T

819

(29)

78

19

17

(1)

1

(0)

  Mean-A2

818

(31)

81

22

17

(2)

1

(1)

  Mean-B1

821

(28)

75

16

18

(1)

2

(0)

  Mean-B2

819

(29)

77

18

17

(1)

2

(0)

Mean of all scenarios

811

(37)

73

14

13

(6)

1

(1)

Mean deviation from target

NA

12

(13)

(4)

For salt marsh and salt barren habitats, the progress observed in restoring coverage of these habitats between the 1995 and 2007 period (Figs. 3, 4; Robison 2010) is expected to reverse by 2100 (Table 2; Fig. 3). The impending effects of climate change and sea level rise is likely to create a greater disparity in “restoring the balance” of these habitats within the Tampa Bay estuary by 2100 (Fig. 3). Again, these results are expected regardless of whether the two alternative adaptation strategies would be implemented within the region to combat sea level rise impacts on critical coastal habitats by 2100.
Fig. 3

Pie charts depicting the critical coastal habitat acreages and percentages in Tampa Bay currently (2007), under target conditions (Robison 2010), and projected by 2100 using SLAMM (2013) relative to two adaptation strategies (allowing habitats to migrate with sea level rise vs. protecting currently developed dry land). The 2100 plots use the mean result of all SLAMM runs, as depicted in Table 3. The size of each chart is proportional to the total acreages under each case

Fig. 4

Estimated composition of critical coastal habitats in Tampa Bay over time as reported by Robison (2010) and the anticipated changes in their composition due to climate change and sea level rise as estimated from the SLAMM (2013) under a worst-case scenario (2 m sea level rise by 2100)

Expansion or succession of mangrove habitats within the Tampa Bay estuary is estimated to significantly skew critical coastal habitat ratios toward a more mangrove-dominated estuarine type system (Fig. 3). These predictions are consistent with historic trend analyses conducted by Robison (2010). Mangrove coverage contributions to the estuarine habitat complex are estimated to increase to 85–89 % of the total critical coastal habitat coverage (currently ~74 %; Fig. 3). As first detailed in Lewis and Robison (1996), this has the potential to create “bottle necks” in available habitat for specific guilds of estuarine-dependent biota currently present within the Tampa Bay estuary. Furthermore, losses in salt marsh and salt barren habitat coverages are estimated to reduce the percent contribution of these habitats to the overall critical coastal habitat coverage to 10–14 % and <1 %, respectively (currently 24 and 2 %, respectively). This too could have confounding effects on estuarine biota habitat requirements within the Tampa Bay estuary.

Discussion

Significant changes in critical coastal habitat coverage and distribution have been estimated for the Tampa Bay watershed over the range of sea level rise scenarios investigated in this study. Two disparate adaptation strategies were considered and showed little potential effect on the modeled changes. Based on these results and as resource managers within the Tampa Bay region prepare for the impending effects of future climate change and sea level rise, it is important to consider that significant changes to the critical coastal habitats that support the rich diversity of biota within the Tampa Bay estuary is likely regardless of whether two opposing adaptation strategies are implemented in the region.

Increasingly, federal (e.g., Burkett and Davidson 2012; USEPA 2012; U.S. Climate Change Science Program 2003; Titus 2009), state (e.g., Mulkey 2007; FOCC 2009; Boicourt and Johnson 2010) and local (e.g., Beever et al. 2009; Robison 2010) resource managers have recognized that global climate change will have significant and direct effects on coastal communities. The mosaic of estuarine habitats within the Tampa Bay region is a highly valued resource that provides ecological, esthetic, socioeconomic, and intrinsic benefits and vitality to the region (Barbier et al. 2011; Russell et al. 2011). Local and regional efforts to sustain, restore, and provide adaptation strategies for the continued benefit and enhancement of these resources is paramount for the Tampa Bay region. Given that the Tampa Bay region is currently one of the most densely populated coastal communities in the Gulf of Mexico and that population within the region is expected to increase well into the future (Fig. 5), efforts to incorporate adaptation strategies that promote habitat resiliency and sustainability into future land use planning practices is imperative.
Fig. 5

2010 population density (#/km2) for U.S. counties along the Gulf of Mexico coast and historically for the three counties bordering Tampa Bay. (Source US Census Bureau)

The FOCC (2009) called for the development of integrated assessment tools to monitor the future effects of climate change and sea level rise on Florida coasts. Several tools have been developed by the NOAA on large regional scales within the Gulf of Mexico (e.g., see http://www.csc.noaa.gov/slr/viewer) that can be applied to land use planning and habitat restoration efforts within Tampa Bay. The GIS-based products developed under this project have built upon NOAA’s initial efforts and have been incorporated into an online Tampa Bay Sea Level Rise Visualization Tool (http://www.tampabay.wateratlas.usf.edu/TB_SLRViewer/). The tool was developed with input from its intended audience—land use planners, natural resource managers, and habitat restoration partners of the TBEP. This tool is intended to allow for the quick display, at the parcel level, of the range of potential sea level rise impacts to coastal habitats, other potential vulnerabilities of adjacent regional infrastructure, and also the proximity of valued societal assets to any anticipated sea level rise.

Implementing an Adaptive, Ecosystem-Based Management Approach

Shifting Management Paradigms

The suite of emergent wetland habitats represented within the Tampa Bay estuary is largely controlled by its location between temperate and subtropical climates. Mangrove habitat distribution and occurrence in Tampa Bay is controlled by periodic winter freezing events, and with the anticipated changes in climate forecasted for 2100, this climate controlling factor may have even more pronounced effects on emergent tidal wetland composition than sea level rise. Raabe at al. (2012) have estimated that historically, the Tampa Bay estuary was comprised of more salt marsh habitats than what has been observed in contemporary periods (i.e., post-1950). They suggested that shifting dominance of mangrove habitats within Tampa Bay has been attributed to a “complex interplay of climate change, river discharge (i.e., freshwater delivery to the estuary), and urbanization impacts.” Figure 4 depicts historic and current estimates of the composition of emergent estuarine wetlands habitats within Tampa Bay, and a worst-case scenario of 2 m sea level rise on the composition of those habitats estimated by 2100 under this updated effort. Mangroves come to dominate the tidal emergent habitat types within the estuary in 2100, and whether or not habitats are allowed to migrate as an adaptation strategy will have a significant impact on the future, total coverage of emergent tidal wetlands within the estuary (Figs. 4, 6).
Fig. 6

Tampa Bay overview map depicting the distribution of different land use/land cover types using SLAMM categories 1–23 as estimated under a worst-case scenario (2 m sea level rise and implementing an adaptation strategy to protect developed dry land that occurred in 2007). Categories were developed from Florida Land Use/Land Cover (SWFWMD 2006, 2007) and USFWS National Wetland Inventory (SWFWMD 2002) GIS files. Watershed boundaries for the major bay segments are depicted by the red lines (OTB Old Tampa Bay, HB Hillsborough Bay, MTB Middle Tampa Bay, LTB Lower Tampa Bay, BCB Boca Ciega Bay, TCB Terra Ceia Bay, MR Manatee River). The yellow polygons represent priority restoration and acquisition sites as of 2010 (Robison 2010). The blue boundary line within the watershed inset depicts the extent of the SLAMM model input layers (Color figure online)

With this in mind, it may be necessary to reconsider the paradigm of “Restoring the Balance” of critical coastal habitats in Tampa Bay. If the overwhelming progression and succession of emergent tidal habitats is towards a mangrove-dominated system in Tampa Bay, then large-scale restoration efforts that require significant fiscal resources to restore monospecific emergent habitats (e.g., only salt marsh or salt barrens) to help achieve unrealistic, future “Restoring the Balance” habitat coverage targets (see Table 1) may be called into question. Perhaps a more appropriate restoration target for the region would be to create opportunity for mangrove habitat recruitment and growth in areas that otherwise would not foster emergent tidal wetlands into the future, whether it be related to anticipated changes to the climate or sea-level. For example, the restoration of salt marsh, salt barren, and even oligohaline marsh habitats should consider the long-term anticipated succession of mangroves as a functional indicator of success rather than simply looking at survivability of specific restored species at the time of restoration (e.g., salt marsh planting survivability within 5 years of a project).

In addition, as the results suggested from this study, fringing coastal freshwater wetlands may be an even more pressing habitat loss for the region into the future. Their proximity to the Bay’s coast is critical for certain estuarine avifauna species (e.g., Eudocimus albus) and guilds survivability, as they provide needed food resources to juveniles of the species. A shift and renewed effort to restore these systems as well as fringing transitional systems that may foster and benefit tidal emergent wetland recruitment and succession is warranted, especially as the Tampa Bay region continues to urbanize and develop in and around these habitats. Again, emphasis on prioritizing the restoration of oligohaline marsh habitats is warranted in this case, as the transitional zone of tidal and freshwater emergent wetlands will likely (and significantly) shift into the future due to changes in sea level within the Tampa Bay estuary. As Raabe et al. (2012) suggests, managers of freshwater inflows to the estuary will have to bare all these habitat restoration priorities in mind, if the Tampa Bay region expects to effectively manage its coastal habitats and ecosystem.

Restoring Coastal Habitat Mosaics

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program (SWFWMD SWIM) has pioneered the restoration technique of restoring coastal habitat mosaics within Tampa Bay (Henningsen 2005). Historically, early restoration projects within Tampa Bay consisted of small-scale, simple marsh plantings; however, the sophistication of coastal habitat restoration through the SWFWMD SWIM program and other TBEP partner restoration projects has evolved into a holistic ecosystem restoration ethos that, where possible, incorporates a rich diversity of subtidal, emergent wetland, and coastal upland restoration techniques into the site plan. An award winning example of this type of restoration technique is highlighted at the Fred and Ida Schultz Nature Preserve Restoration site (Fig. 7). Here, a completely upland, spoil-created peninsula was restored into a braided tidal creek system with subtidal, marsh, and coastal upland features.
Fig. 7

a Aerial image of the formally known as “Port Redwing” pre-restoration site looking east. b Aerial image of the Fred and Ida Schultz Nature Preserve post-restoration site looking west. c Overview conceptual plan for the Fred and Ida Schultz Nature Preserve restoration site

Restoration efforts in the future should apply the lessons learned in Tampa Bay regarding the success of large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts that have incorporated habitat mosaics into their designs. Not only will these types of restoration efforts provide more functional benefit to the estuary in the future, but they also could proactively offer coastal habitat resiliency towards any future sea level rise impacts—especially when coastal upland features are integrated into the design and allow for the migration of tidal emergent wetlands into higher elevations. Upslope estuarine habitat migration may otherwise be prevented or limited if the restoration site is bordered by currently developed lands.

Establishing Subtidal and Upland Coastal Habitat Refugia

Significant effort has been invested in the Tampa Bay watershed to prioritize coastal sites for either restoration or future acquisition and preservation activities (Lewis and Robison 1996; Robison 2010). Originally, Lewis and Robison (1996) identified and prioritized 28 coastal sites within the Tampa Bay watershed for these activities. Since that time, 19 sites have been completely or partially purchased, and of those, 8 have undergone restoration. Robison (2010) updated this priority list to now include 49 publicly-owned sites and eight sites targeted for public–private partnership opportunities. Most of these sites are located along Tampa Bay’s current coastline and include large areas that are currently intertidal.

Given, the range of sea level rise projections developed for Tampa Bay, the majority of these sites will most likely become subtidal and may no longer support emergent tidal wetland habitats. This is abundantly clear when the worst-case scenario of a 2 m sea level rise while following a developed land protection adaptation strategy is visualized (Fig. 6). It is therefore imperative that land managers and planners, as well as restoration site practitioners, consider lands up-slope of these priority restoration areas into the future for additional acquisition and restoration opportunities. Specific local examples of where these lands may occur in the future under the extreme scenario depicted in Fig. 6 are more closely highlighted in Fig. 8 for four regions within Tampa Bay that may become highly susceptible to sea level rise impacts.
Fig. 8

Visual comparison of SLAMM categories 1–23 under current conditions a and as estimated under a 2100 worst-case scenario b (i.e., 2 m sea level rise and implementing an adaptation strategy to protect developed dry land that occurred in 2007) for four example regions within the Tampa Bay estuary highly susceptible to sea level rise impacts. Categories were developed from Florida Land Use/Land Cover (SWFWMD 2006, 2007) and USFWS National Wetland Inventory (SWFWMD 2002) GIS files. Tampa Bay regions include: (1) Upper Old Tampa Bay shoreline; (2) Feather sound region of Old Tampa Bay; (3) Interbay Peninsula; and (4) Southshore region of middle Tampa Bay. Potential emergent habitat refugia areas to be considered for future land management initiatives are indicated by arrows and white ovals. Potential subtidal refugia areas are revealed within the black hashed polygons (current publicly managed lands) that become inundated in 2100

With the limited land acquisition opportunities currently available within the Tampa Bay watershed—especially adjacent to the coast where much of the available land area has already been developed—it will be necessary to identify new potential public–private partnerships that could be fostered to add higher elevation restoration opportunities to the mix of priority sites. For critical coastal habitats with specific niche elevation requirements (e.g., salt barrens that are only seasonally inundated by tide), it may be necessary to identify low-lying inland areas that could become available as salt barren habitat in the future and set these areas aside as future habitat refugia sites (e.g., as depicted in Fig. 8). Additionally, long-term coastal land use planning could incorporate the idea of rolling easements (Titus 2011) into the mix of planning tools to reserve/preserve lands as refugia along the coast in the future to allow coastal habitat migration into higher elevation lands.

Subtidal habitats, including expansive tidal flats with submerged aquatic vegetation (seagrass), may also be impacted by rising sea levels within Tampa Bay. A number of mechanisms could impact seagrass coverage in the future along these shallow, subtidal areas including, but not limited to: (1) changes in water column light attenuation and water quality as tidal flats become more inundated (FOCC 2009; Tomasko and Keenan 2010); (2) alteration of currents and circulation along and within seagrass meadows as a result of changing depths that could adversely impact seagrass distributions (Capili et al. 2005); and (3) the potential inability of seagrasses to migrate into shallower portions of the estuary as these areas become inundated and/or as emergent habitats are more frequently flooded (Wicks 2005).

Unfortunately, the SLAMM employed in this study is unable to estimate changes to seagrass as a result of SLR, and therefore, predicted changes in these habitats are unavailable. Nonetheless, it is clear that new shallow, subtidal areas will emerge as sea levels rise. The newly inundated areas, if not naturally colonized by new seagrass beds, should be considered for future protection, as well. In the same manner as refugias can be established for high marsh and salt barren habitat migration in adjacent coastal uplands, so to can newly inundated, subtidal areas be established as refugias for future seagrass colonization (e.g., as depicted in Fig. 8).

Likewise, with the uncertainties surrounding how seagrass will respond to sea level rise and climate change in the future; it becomes even more imperative to strive for future water quality improvements in the bay. Continuing to implement the actions and strategies documented in Greening and Janicki (2006) will allow seagrass to be more resilient to future climate change and sea level rise impacts. General water quality improvements in the bay could help ensure that seagrass meadows persist and potentially expand into new, subtidal refugia areas, if implemented as a future management action for the region.

Conclusions

Estuaries are inherently dynamic by nature and definition. While this may prove difficult for resource managers to establish future restoration trajectories (e.g., Duarte et al. 2009), it should not create impenetrable barriers to adaptively manage these invaluable coastal ecosystems. Here, we have presented a range of plausible future conditions for critical coastal habitats present in the Tampa Bay estuary. If these highly valued resources are to be sustained into the future, then a significant shift in the current management paradigm and restoration trajectories may be warranted. While this shift may not require a significant change in current restoration practices (e.g., continued creation of habitat mosaics), it may require a more careful determination of site locale within the estuary and the expected climax habitat types (e.g., mangroves) that will eventually persist under anticipated sea level rise conditions in the future. To this end, habitat restoration and acquisition practices in the Tampa Bay estuary now require the foresight of resource managers, land use planners, and local policy makers to manage these critical coastal habitats with the impending effects of continued urbanization along the coast, any potential changes to freshwater inflows and ultimately future climate change.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank all Tampa Bay Estuary Program partners and collaborators for their continued efforts in the recovery of Tampa Bay. The progress achieved in restoring the Tampa Bay ecosystem over the last 30+ years would not be possible without their willingness to adapt and implement innovative management actions in response to the ever evolving challenges threatening Tampa Bay. We also thank 3 anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments in improving this paper. This project was partially funded through EPA Section 320 Grant Funds and local government (Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas Counties; the Cities of Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tampa; and the Southwest Florida Water Management District) contributions to the TBEP’s operating budget.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tampa Bay Estuary ProgramSt. PetersburgUSA

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