Holly Sue Greening oral history interview

Holly Sue Greening oral history interview

Material Information

Holly Sue Greening oral history interview
Series Title:
Tampa Bay oral history project
Greening, Holly Sue
Hodgson, Ann B
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
Physical Description:
1 sound file ( 53 minutes) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Wetlands -- Florida ( lcsh )
Water quality -- Environment aspects ( lcsh )
Seagrasses -- Ecology -- Florida -- Tampa Bay ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


Holly Sue Greening, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, grew up on the east coast of Florida. Inspired as a child by ichthyologist Dr. Eugenie Clark's Lady with a Spear, Greening earned her master's degree in marine biology from Florida State University. After working at various estuarine sites around Florida, Holly moved to Tampa Bay in the late 1980s and has spent the subsequent decades with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. In this interview, Greening discusses the history of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, its various initiatives, and its role in improving the area's seagrass. Greening also discusses several environmental challenges the bay has faced, including climate change, acidification, and toxic materials management. Greening shares her thoughts on habitat restoration as well as the importance of community involvement in the overall recovery and restoration of the bay.
Interview conducted on June 30, 2015 .
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Ann B. Hodgson.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
033929349 ( ALEPH )
932462223 ( OCLC )
T43-00007 ( USFLDC DOI )
t43.7 ( USFLDC Handle )

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text Ann Hodgson: [Ann] Hodgson with the Tampa Bay Oral History Project at the University of South Florida Special Collections, and Im here today with Holly Greening. Holly is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Holly, welcome and thank you for being with us.
Holly Sue Greening: Thank you. Im very pleased to be here.
AH: The Tampa Bay Oral History Project is focused on recapturing the memories and the experiences of so many of the scientists who have worked in Tampa Bay, and I would like to start by just asking you: How did you become interested as a young child in science? What was your early educational experience? And how did you get to Tampa Bay?
HG: Those are great questions and ones I really like to talk about. I was born and raised on the east coast of Florida, and just north of Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach, but my dad was actually born and raised here in St. Petersburg. And so, my grandparents lived here, we spent many, many weekends here. So I grew up, essentially, in between St. Petersburg and Ormond Beach. So, I was here in the 50s, starting in the 50s with my grandparents in downtown St. Pete.
I really became interested, I think, in marine science at a very early age. Our family used to go to Sanibel Island for vacation when you still had to go over on the ferry. We would go over for a long weekend, occasionally. And just being on the beach down there and living beside the ocean in Ormond Beach really focused my attention on the ocean and the bays at a very early age.
I think a real turning point for me, for directing my career, it really, really directed it very strongly from an early age, was my mother, knowing that I liked to look at shells and things like that when I was about ten, she picked up a book at a yard sale for ten cents. And it was called Lady with a Spear, and it was by Eugenie Clark, Dr. Eugenie Clark, who unfortunately, just passed away earlier this year, but a wonderful marine biologist. And that book, I read it from cover to cover. I still have it. Its one of my prized possessions, and it really changed my life in terms of how, the direction that I wanted to go in, in terms of marine biology. And so that book, when I was ten, Lady with a Spear really, really had a big influence on my passion for wanting to work in the sea and thats been a very important piece of my career there.
When I was in high school, I went out to a junior college at that point and took marine biology classes, again furthering my interest at a relatively early age of marine ecology, marine biology. I attended Florida State University and I got both an undergraduate and a graduate degree there in marine ecology. And I worked in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico off of St. Marks, which is just south of Tallahassee. And I worked on food web interactions there with a lot of other scientists, a lot of other graduate students.
And I think that effort of working in a collaborative way with other researchers on different pieces of the same puzzle, in terms of food web interactions, in seagrass beds really has, again, helped me to form sort of an overview of a collaborative approach to addressing issues.  Its something I did as a senior scientist at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and now as the executive director. Collaboration is a very big part of that. I also had the opportunity to work in the Okefenokee Swamp when I wasafter my graduate work, as a research coordinator for a large ecosystem restoration project there. And I was a research coordinator, so I got to work, again, in a collaborative way on a lot of different angles to the same question. And thats a real interesting piece of my career, I think, is that collaborative piece.
I came back to Tampa in the late 1980s and I worked here for a couple of years. And then was able to start working with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program at its inception. So I was the first hire there, other than the executive director, Dick Eckenrod, at that time, and he hired me as a senior scientist in 1991. So, Ive been at the program now for 25 years and have really been able to see, firsthand, how collaboration with the public sector, private sector, citizens, all working together, can help to restore a big water body like Tampa Bay. Its been very gratifying to see that progression over time.
AH: So, as executive director, what are your present roles and responsibilities?
HG: My major role, I think, as executive director is to make sure that this partnership of public sector and private sector continues to function well in terms of keeping a focus on restoring and protecting Tampa Bay. Our partners include local governments, industry, we have a lot of citizen action and a lot of communities working together and that. So, my major focus is making sure that that partnership remains strong.
And the way that the Tampa Bay Estuary Program really focuses on keeping that partnership strong is making sure that our science is very strong and very solid, that all the entities that have a part in maintaining the progress in Tampa Bay are very engaged and at the table about any sort of management decision. So, thats a lot of effort, as you know, I do a lot of talking with a lot of different groups and I think thats really my main focus. I have a staff of five. And so obviously, they all are very important members of keeping the community and the science and our partnerships going, too.
AH: I think many of our viewers and listeners may not be familiar with the National Estuary Program, and Tampa Bay, of course, is one of the very prominent stories. Could you give us an overview of the National Estuary Program, and then bring the Tampa Bay program into context?
HG: Sure. The National Estuary Program is run by EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency], its a non-regulatory EPA program. There are 28 NEPs around the United States and Tampa Bay is one of those 28. Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor, just to the south of us, are two others, as well as the Indian River Lagoon. So we have four NEPs in the state of Florida. I think the hallmark of the National Estuary Program is building local partnerships to work with state and federal regulatory entities to protect and restore our different bays, and each one of our programs has a different focus area. Some are more education and community involvement, some are more policy related. Our program is primarily scientifically based. And so I think each one of the NEPs fits into each of the communities in a different way.
And Tampa Bay came on as one of the 28 in 1991. It was signed, sponsored by the governor and also by the water management district and the regional planning councils. So the state and the regional and local entities, comprising the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, signed on in 1991 to be an NEP, and to commit to furthering the partnership. Our partners are the counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, and the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa, as well as the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Department of Environmental Protection, and EPA.
So at the same table that are making decisions, we have three cities, three counties, three regulatory agencies, and thats worked very well to come up with common goals and how do we meet those. One of the first things that our policy board, which consists of elected officials from those three counties and three cities, as well as high levels within the three regulatory agenciesone of the first things they did in 1992 was to adopt a long-term, at that time, very, very aggressive goal of restoring seagrass in Tampa Bay to 1950s levels. Wed lost about half of our seagrass between 1950 and 1990 due to poor water quality and excess nitrogen coming into the bay. And so we lost about 20,000 acres, which is quite significant.
And so adopting that long-term goal has really been the focus of a lot of our restoration efforts over the last 25 years now. And so it is thathaving a numeric goal has been very, very important for focusing the restoration efforts on nutrient reduction in Tampa Bay. The estuary program helped to design and implement a number of different scientific evaluations, in terms of once we had the seagrass goal, how much light do seagrasses need to reach the depth that the seagrasses were in 1950 and found that we needed about 20.5 percent light at the depth that we observed those seagrasses in 1950. And then identified what was causing light attenuation. Why were we not getting that light to the depth we observed in 1950?
And found that chlorophyll A, which is an indication of the amount of phytoplankton in the water, algae in the water, was one of the major factors. And so we adopted very specific numeric goals for chlorophyll that would allow 20.5 percent light to get to the depth of seagrasses in 1950. Once those goals were in place, and we had a different one for each of the major parts of the bay, we were able to develop several different types of models. Both an empirical model and a mechanistic model to evaluate the relationship between those chlorophyll A targets and the amount of nitrogen that the bay could receive and still meet those targets, not exceed those chlorophyll A targets.
That nutrient loadingnitrogen loading became goals in 1994. And so, again, very aggressive goals, but because we had already seen some improvements in the bay, we were able to start meeting those goals in 1994. That took a number of years before we started to see the water quality improve and then another number of other years, additional years, before we started seeing seagrass coming back. But we did see seagrasses starting to come back in about 1992, 1994, and have seen seagrasses increase, pretty much since then, with the exception of some very heavy rainfall years when we lost some seagrass.
Just earlier this month, we found out that the water management district flies aerial photographs every two years and measures the amount of seagrasses in the bay. And we found out that we had met that long-term goal, which, for me personally, is incredibly rewarding. I didnt, you know, when we adopted that goal in 1991, 1992, I thought we may meet it in 2030. And so to meet it in 2015 is very exciting and, I think really is viewed as a model around the country in terms of a collaborative effort of meeting long-term goals for seagrass restoration.
AH: So, thats a very impressive time track in terms of achieving such an important goal for the local community.
HG: It is. Yes, yeah, and it really started out, actually in, by citizen action in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The bay, at that point, was so overgrown with algae it was washing ashore in the shorelines and it smelled, and there was a real strong citizen call for action. We need to do something tobecause the bay was considered dead at that point. The newspapers called it dead. Again, this was in the late 1970s. And 60 Minutes actually did a segment on nutrient pollution in the United States and used Tampa Bay as a poster child for nutrient pollution. It was that bad. And citizens actually called for legislative action that did occur, the Grizzle-Figg Act in the late 1970s, early 1980s, which was specifically for Tampa Bay.
It was state legislation that required all of the wastewater treatment plants that discharged to Tampa Bay to reduce the amount of nitrogen that they were discharging to the bay, either by additional wastewater treatment, which reduced their nitrogen loading by more than 90 percent, or by going to 100 percent reuse. The City of Tampa was one of the first ones that implemented wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Again, reducing their nitrogen load by about 50 percent, or actually, about 90 percent, and the City of St. Petersburg went to 100 percent reuse. And so we had two big wastewater treatment plants in the bay that significantly reduced their nitrogen loading very quickly, within just a couple of years.
And all the rest of the wastewater treatment plants were also complying with that and did comply within just about three years. So that was really the result of the citizen call for action at that point. Again, it took about five years before we started seeing any response in the bay at all. Then we started seeing slight improvements in terms of water clarity, because there was less phytoplankton. Because the nutrients coming into the bay had been reduced. In 1985, the state storm water rule came into effect, addressing the nonpoint sources, the storm water.
Here in Tampa Bay, we had both the wastewater and the storm water reductions occurring, and we saw, again, a bump in our water clarity as a result of that. I think a real important piece of this overall action in continuing the recovery that we saw with those early actions, with the wastewater and the storm water regulation, was the formation through the estuary program of a public-private partnership called the Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium. And this came about as a result of our elected officials in the policy board. When they adopted the seagrass goal and then recognized what that meant in terms of nitrogen reduction, realized that this was not a public sector thing only. You know, that they couldnt do it on their own.
So they asked industry and agriculture in the area, electric utilities to join in a voluntary effort to reduce nitrogen to Tampa Bay. And weve gotten wonderful response from industry and agriculture and electric utilities. The Mosaic Company reduced their load significantly by changing how they process fertilizer, reducing the amount of nitrogen being discharged. Tampa Electric Company was another major player in this. It turns out that air pollution can contribute very much to water pollution. And so by reducing the amount of nitrogen that they emit in air, theyve been able to reduce their contribution to the bay very significantly. And TECO has done that by both implementing controls on their power plants and also switching fuel from coal or oil to natural gas which reduces the amount of nitrogen emissions.
So weve seen some major improvements in air quality, but also water quality as a result of that. Farmers have also contributed by reducing less water, going with micro jet irrigation over time, rather than flooding the fields like they used to do primarily. And by reducing the amount of water theyre using they also are reducing the amount of runoff that comes off of their agricultural lands. And so, again, it has taken all of these different entities and starting off in a voluntary way, in 1996, to help continue the recovery of Tampa Bay. In 1998, DEP and EPA recognized a total maximum daily load for Tampa Bay, which is a regulatory element, but they adopted the same goals as had been adopted by the estuary program and their partners in 1992.
So, the same nitrogen goals that helped to restore seagrass are now regulatory requirements. And so there, we were continuing to meet those goals, and I think thats
AH: Now one of the areas of focuslooking at historic habitats and finding ways to restore some of the areas that have become degraded around the bay, can you give us sort of a long perspective?
HG: Yeah. One of the things that happened early on in our program when we were looking at coastal habitats, the marshes and the mangroves, and some of the more uncommon habitats like salterns, which are high marsh areas that are barren most of the year. We looked at where and how much of those habitats occurred in 1950, and recognized that we were not going to get back everything we had lost. Other houses and roadways and everything else, you know, 50 percent of our shoreline has been altered.
So, recognizing that we werent able to get back the total number of acres, lets try to restore the balance of habitats that we had in 1950 so that the animals that depend on thethe estuary-dependent animals that use those habitats would havethere would not be a bottleneck by losing more of one type of a habitat than another. And it turned out that when you look at the ratio of habitats in 1950 versus now, we have a lot more mangroves on a ratio basis than we do marshes, and especially low salinity habitats up in rivers. And so it turns out that those low salinity habitats and rivers, and some of the other smaller habitat types are most at-risk for creating a bottleneck.
So weve been trying to focus, when there is an option, to include more low-salinity habitats, oligohaline habitat in rivers. We try to encourage that to happen. And that is an ongoing effort. It does seem to be very much in keeping with sort of the mosaic habitat approach that we now use, that habitat restoration projects now use in terms of incorporating not just one type of habitat, but a mixture of habitats that were here historically. Were gradually gaining on that too, and so thats, again, I think a concept of trying to have habitats that all the species of the bay can use at some point in their life cycle. And so thats been an important piece also.
AH: Now that effort began with a large document, the Restoring the Bay document. In my understanding is that documents in revision for its next edition. Whats the status?
HG: Thats right. In 1996, the first comprehensive plan for Tampa Bay is called a, its a requirement of all the National Estuary Programs. Its a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. It was adopted in 1996, it was actually signed by the EPA administrator, and the regional administrator in region four, and our governor at that time. And so it was revised. We try to revise it every ten years. This is the third revision of our comprehensive plan. And were in the process of doing that now.
Our original document had about 75 or so different actions. And some of those, weve been moving forward on them. Some of them have turned out to be not as important as some other actions are now. For instance, in the first two revisions in 1996 and then in 2006, climate change wasnt even recognized as an issue. And we now have climate related actions very much involved with this new edition. So as we learn more and meet some goals and fall behind on others, we do see a change in what the actions are within our comprehensive plan. That is a long-term process. We have started on it now; our staff has started on it, working with our partners. We expect to finish it by the end of 2016.
AH: As we look back over the actions and steps that the estuary program and its partners have taken, I wonder if we could talk in just a little bit more detail about what it took to make these local and bay-wide changes in seagrass growth? Roger Johansson, who was the supervisor for the Bay Studies Group, talked with us yesterday about the early research on seagrass. Their research, of course, contributed a lot to folks understanding, but there were many players. Could you give us the estuary programs perspective on that?
HG: Yes. I think we have focused a lot on understanding the environmental requirements of recovering seagrass. And so we have worked with Mote Marine Lab, for instance, to identify the light requirements for seagrass. That was an experimental research project early on in the program, which determined that 20.5 percent light requirement at the deep edges of the seagrasses. Weve also worked quite a bit with other entities in the area, both universities, other agencies, and consultants, to develop the scientific backbone of understanding the requirements of seagrass and then what it was going to take in order to meet those nutrient loading goals, which ultimately drive the chlorophyll concentrations and the light attenuation in the seagrass.
But I think one of the contributions, probably, from the estuary program that has been most important is the encouragement of the collaboration of all the potential sources of nitrogen to work together to help meet these long-term goals. And so, I had mentioned the Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium that has the public and the private sector together. That group has been working together since 1996 to identify projects and implement projects over time to help to reduce nitrogen to Tampa Bay. So that partnership, the partners within the consortium needed to understand the science before they were really, completely onboard in terms of helping to meet these long-term goals. And I think that is the major focus of the estuary program.
I think were viewed as sort of an honest broker. Were not a regulatory program, we also are not a source of nitrogen but we can bring the science and the management and the regulatory and the regulated entities together to work on a collaborative approach. Tampa Bay is one of the very few areas in the United States, and in fact in the world that actually has this collaborative approach to meeting long-term nitrogen management goals that is also now meeting regulatory requirements. Weve been very fortunate to have a group of people in the Tampa Bay area who have worked together for a long time and are willing to work together to give and take to make things happen and it really is unique.
Ive talked with a lot of other places around the United States and people go, How did you get people to work together? How did that happen? And I think the answer was that everyone was invited to participate and encouraged to participate. And it took a long time to get through some of those discussions, especially when we were working on individual allocations of nitrogen load which is part of the process. And again, everyone had to realize that they may not get everything they want, but hopefully, everybody got what they needed, and we were able to move forward with the overall process.
So, I think our focus, as a science-based group that focuses on collaboration and encouraging all the partners to work together and to be a part of the process and a part of the solution, has been a really important piece. You know, not everyone agrees that perhaps some of the industry should be working with the environmental groups, but it works. Everybody needs to be a part of that solution and are very pleased to be a part of that solution. And so, I think it builds on itself. You see some progress, and people like being part of something thats working. Its very important though for us, as an estuary program, to maintain that science-based approach without pointing fingers at any entity at all, everybodys part of the solution.
AH: Lets take a break for just a moment. Well come back and continue our conversation.
HG: Great.
AH: Hodgson with the Tampa Bay Oral History Project, and Im back with Holly Greening, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Holly, thank you so much for being here today.
HG: Oh, youre welcome.
AH: So we were talking earlier about the many successes that the estuary program has had over the last 25 years, and youve given us a wonderful explanation of the estuary programs foundation, the many partners who participate, and the focal areas of work that the estuary program has undertaken. Can you tell us a little bit about where some of those efforts still have the need to expand? What are some of the challenges that the program is still looking at?
HG: We still have a lot of challenges and the nitrogen management element, I think, in itself is going to have some challenges going forward. Weve been very successful. We, collectively, have been very successful at seeing improvements in the bay in the face of a lot of new people in the area, a million more people over the last 25 years. But our areas projected to increase by another million in the next 20 years. And so, I think one of the issues with nitrogen management is going to be that weve tackled the major things that we can right now.
And so, as we move forward, were going to have to look at more innovative approaches to working with the additional nitrogen that comes into the bay as a result of more population. Some of those may be some of the low impact development efforts and the green infrastructure efforts that our counties and cities are starting to examine and to implement. But I think were probably looking at, perhaps, new technology that we may not even know about yet, you know, in the future. I think weve got a lot of challenges ahead with that. What gives me hope and, you know, a good feeling of optimism is that weve been able to do that very successfully over the last 20 years.
So, Im looking forward to seeing how those efforts for nitrogen continue to move forward. Weve also got a number of other issues out there. One of them, of course, is a global understanding of the effects of climate change. Were seeing right now, a sea level rise of about an inch a decade, and has been in Tampa Bay since the 1940s. So, even our seagrass goal, which requires light to a certain depth, weve got that much more water on top of our seagrasses now than we had in 1940. And well continue to see the rise in sea level in Tampa Bay.
At the same level, scientists expect them to be even an increased level over the next 20 years or so. And so, I think how we think about habitat restoration to include resiliency in our designs, so that different types of habitats can move upslope with rising sea levels, is going to be important. Were already seeing that in the designs that are going around the edge of the bay now, thinking about incorporating buffer areas sort of at the upslope ends of our habitat restoration projects along the bay. So that, as sea level does gradually increase, that there is a place that they can go that they dont bump into a road or a seawall or a housing development.
And how we can incorporate that into our planning, I think, is going to be really critical. Weve got some tools, now, that have been developed to help us with that, but weve got a ways to go on developing resilience into our, especially, our coastal habitat restoration projects. You know, the counties and the cities with infrastructure certainly have a lot of issues too that they will be addressing over time, but were focusing primarily on the habitat and the habitat restoration elements through the estuary program.
I think weve gotweve certainly have some challenges ahead; to take a look at contaminants other than nitrogen and the effects in Tampa Bay. Our watershed, our rivers and streams and lakes and the watershed, they still aremany of them are considered impaired, for either nitrogen or phosphorous or other contaminants. And so those will continue to be areas that well work on with partners to continue to address over time.
Weve got a large effort called Be Floridian, which is an education campaign, a social marketing campaign to try to encourage people to be smart aboutbay smart about how they fertilize and manage their residential lawns and landscapes. And as we get a lot of people that move into the area, they may not have an understanding as clear as people that have lived here for a long time. Just what they do in their backyard, how that can affect their nearby rivers or streams or lakes, and eventually the bay. So that continuing education is a very important piece. Encouraging people to be Floridian in terms of they may manage their landscapes differently than they did in areas they may have moved from. And so that continuing education is a very important piece of our program overall.
AH: Now there have been some other recent research initiatives that the estuary program is just beginning to explore. Youve looked at economic issues recently?
HG: We have. That was a project with Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. And the question we asked was not just, What is the economic value to the community around Tampa Bay by having a bay here?, but Whats the added value of the fact that the bay is now healthy you knowor healthier than it has been, historically? And what the results found are that Tampa Bay, about one in five jobs in Tampa Bay is due to the fact that we now have a healthy bay. You know, not the transportation jobs, and things like that that just need the water body, but that actually depend on the fact that weve got clean water and more seagrasses, and a healthier bay overallthe animals that live in the bay.
And one in five jobs, thats very significant. Its about, equal to about $22 billion per year in added value to the economy of the bay, or about 13 percent of the regions economy is dependent now on the fact that we have a healthy bay. And so that has been new information for us. And I think it really helps to focus not just that a clean bay means better fishing, but a clean bay means a better economy. So thats been an important piece of our understanding of Tampa Bay and its impact on the community.
AH: How do you think youll be able to leverage those important facts, that recent finding, in terms of other improvements in the bay?
HG: I think it helps to justify the many actions that have occurred in the bay. You know, were not just doing this for, you know, sort of the bugs and bunnies outline of it, but that it also is helping to improve the economy of the bay. I think it also points to the fact that a healthy environmental condition is conducive to a healthy economy. You know, theyre not in opposition and that is a really important finding. I think, many times that when you look at the costs of any sort of habitat restoration or nutrient reduction types of projects, and theyre very significant. And so, to get a return on your investment that is bay wide and is recognized has been an important understanding ofand additional information that will continue to help everyone understand just how important a clean bay is.
AH: Now, there are some new scientific initiatives that the estuary program is just beginning to engage on. And those involve carbon credits, is that correct?
HG: Theres a new initiative called Blue Carbon. And this is not just taking place in Tampa Bay but in a number of areas around the United States, including Puget Sound and Maine, some of the areas in Maine. Blue Carbon is the idea that habitat restoration or, like the improvements in seagrass, not only are beneficial for that particular environment, and ecologically beneficial, but also can help to sequester carbon from the air and from the atmosphere. And as were looking at additional ocean acidification issues, over time, sequestering carbon has become a very, sort of new idea thats very important to understand how we can help to reduce the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on ocean acidification.
AH: For listeners who dont know very much about that whole process, can you just give us a quick overview of why thats so important?
HG: Yeah. Over the last several decades, theres been a gradual acidification of, the oceans are getting more acidic. And the reason that is important is because, for instance, shellfish and corals that sequester, or need to sequester calcium and calcium carbonate find it more difficult to do so under acidic conditions. That doesnt mean that the ocean is getting like lemon juice or something like that. Its a very gradual acidification process. But it may impact our corals in The Keys, or oysters, especially larvae, the early stages in oysters, are affected by this. And we do have oysters in Tampa Bay, obviously. So, it is a global concern of this ocean acidification.
And theres some very interesting, very preliminary indications in Tampa Bay that our increases in seagrass actually may be buffering the acidity of Tampa Bay a little bit. And from long-term water quality measurements, primarily through the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, early on in the 70s when measurements were started of a PH, which is a measure of acid in the water, we saw very spiky, high levels. And that was associated with the high levels of phytoplankton that were in the bay. Then, as the phytoplankton were reduced and water quality improved, we saw the acidification becoming greater, the PH going down. But then we started seeing a different pattern than other areas around the country, and that is that the PH levels are going up slightly now.
Starting at about 1988, 1990, when we started to see our seagrasses coming back. Theres some indication, and again, very early on in this process, but one of the hypotheses is that by increasing seagrass, we also are decreasing the amount of acidification that is happening in Tampa Bay. And if that turns out to be something that appears to be a reality, as we examine some of these, it may indicate that places like Tampa Bay, where were seeing an increase in seagrass may act as a refugia for some animals that other areas, that are continuing to see the acidification may not have.
Some very exciting work. Very early, earlier on in this stage. But a concept that is somewhat different. The Blue Carbon concept is similar to that in that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be sequestered by seagrasses and marshes and mangroves. And with increased seagrasses, we may be increasing our carbon sequestration, which takes that out of the atmosphere and that, in turn, is related to the ocean acidification issue.
AH: Now, as we look forward into the future, with the educational effort that the estuary program has underway, what is your message to the community? What are your predictions for the future? What does the community still need to do to increase and propel all of these successes forward?
HG: I think the major issue is just awareness, that what an individual does in their backyard really makes a difference in terms of contributions to a clean environment. And so, understanding that link between, you may be 20 miles from the bay, but if you enjoy the bay, which most of the people in our watershed get to the bay. They fish or they swim or they go to the beach, so theyre aware of the bay and appreciate the bay. Twenty miles away, you still have a link to making sure that the bay continues to improve.
AH: Weve covered a tremendous range of topics this morning. I really appreciate your being here, and thank you so much for giving us an overview of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and all of its many different initiatives.


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