Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Blame crustaceans for Old Tampa Bay's muck

SAFETY HARBOR — Six months into a yearlong muck study of Old Tampa Bay, principal investigator Ernst Peebles revealed his team's initial findings Monday.

The news was a relief to many Safety Harbor officials. According to Peebles, a University of South Florida professor:

• The area is not a dead zone.

• It does not stand out as the worst portion of the bay.

• Muck accumulation is not at a critical or acute stage at this point.

• There are no serious oxygen circulation issues.

• The muck will start to break down naturally if humans stop excess nutrients from flowing into the bay.

So what is causing the accumulation of unsightly dark, soft organic matter where sand used to be?

When Peebles and his colleagues looked at the matter under a microscope, they found quartz sand, remnants of microscopic plants and large brown oval objects that turned out to be fecal pellets from crustaceans.

"At this point, it looks like there has been an increase in the production of fecal pellets in this area, which means an increase in the amount of zooplankton and/or an increase in the amount of larval crabs and shrimp,'' Peebles said.

"What we think is happening is, the area is becoming more productive over time and that's resulting in a larger biomass of zooplankton and young crabs and shrimp," he said. "And the rate of fecal pellets deposition has been increasing faster than the rate of decomposition.''

Therefore, slimy gunk, and lots of it.

Peebles said the Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal is one of many sources that have caused an accumulation of nutrients in Old Tampa Bay.

The study stems from a breakfast meeting at Panera Bread three years ago between Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold and Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker. They discussed a joint partnership between the two cities to try to clean up Old Tampa Bay.

That meeting led to a $150,000 study of the waters off Safety Harbor, sponsored by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Pinellas County and the cities of Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Clearwater also contributed financially.

In addition to USF, Eckerd College is involved, as is the U. S. Geological Survey.

Once funding was in place, scientists used acoustics to measure how much of the bay is covered in muck. To find out how deep the sludge is, they took 60 core samples.

A chemical analysis will be conducted on the samples to establish the history and source of the material and answer this question: Has this been recurring for 100 years or is this a new phenomenon?

Although the study is far from complete, Peebles believes he can safely say that if the discharge from the Lake Tarpon canal was restricted or diverted to another waterway, "it would help.''

"The natural process is being accelerated by human activity,'' Peebles said. "It leads to deteriorated water quality and aesthetic conditions that people don't like.''

Peebles stressed that the study was still in the early stages and the causes of the build-up of nutrient is still being investigated.

Steingold said he was surprised that the problem may be due to fecal pellets from crustaceans and that the problem can be fixed.

"I am encouraged that a remedy will soon be found,'' he said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at or (727) 445-4153.

Blame crustaceans for Old Tampa Bay's muck 06/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 4:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'


    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light


    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling


    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]