The greater Tampa Bay area boasts many healthy ecosystems and an abundance of wildlife thanks to a number of government agencies, organizations, and volunteers who have committed endless time and money to conserve this part of Florida.
Tampa Bay Estuary Program is a fantastic organization that is actually a partnership of several local counties, cities, and districts that all share common goals, such as wanting to restore and protect Tampa Bay and surrounding ecosystems. I’m lucky enough to have been awarded a grant by Tampa Bay Estuary Program to document restored and protected areas and their inhabitants.
Rock Ponds at Cockroach Bay
When I found out I was chosen as a Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) grant recipient, I knew I wanted to photograph Rock Ponds, which is the largest coastal restoration project completed in Tampa Bay to date. The project finished in 2016 and resulted in the restoration of around 1,043 acres. The Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration endeavor was made possible by South West Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program and the Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department. Additionally, thousands of volunteers helped with the project.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this area several times throughout the years, but my morning out there while on assignment for TBEP was my most favorite visit because I *finally* saw an alligator there! I’ve previously seen all kinds of birds (and biting insects the size of birds haha), but I had never seen a gator at Rock Ponds at Cockroach Bay. I was SO pumped to see a gorgeous alligator cruising the water during the morning’s golden hour.
Weedon Island Area & Out on the Bay
Boasting thousands of acres of aquatic and upland ecosystems, Weedon Island Preserve is a fantastic place to hike through mangrove forests, go birding, and launch a kayak to paddle through mangrove tunnels or head out to the bay. Weedon is a Pinellas County park and, in addition to offering hiking trails and a kayak launch, the preserve has a great Cultural & Natural History Center where you can learn about the Tocobaga Peoples – the original conservationists of the area.
A city of St. Petersburg park, Maximo includes 70 acres and sits where Boca Ciega Bay meets Tampa Bay. There are trails, a small beach, and gorgeous views. This park includes multiple Native American archeological sites, which earned the park’s official designation as an archeological site.
Fort De Soto Park
Another Pinellas County Park, Fort De Soto, is an incredible area that encompasses more than 1,000 acres. There are so many different ecosystems here that are home to a mind-blowing amount of wildlife, including hundreds of species of birds.
There’s a wonderful bird sanctuary at the park that allows shore birds to live and nest in peace, away from humans and foot traffic.
At one time, Fort De Soto was strictly for military use and was even used as a bombing range. Still, to this day, you can enjoy a self-guided tour of the actual Fort (De Soto) at the park.
These are just a few of the restored and protected areas around greater Tampa Bay. All of these parks help native plant communities and wildlife grow and thrive. Additionally, the restored wetlands help with flooding issues, water quality, and so much more. And, of course, these areas offer ample recreational activities and help bring tourism dollars into the state.
Get in Touch
If you have any questions or want to chat about conservation efforts in the Tampa Bay area, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.