Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Geography

Major Professor

Philip van Benyen, Ph.D

Keywords

Environmental management, Coastal, Index, Ecology, Conservation

Abstract

Mangroves are an important resource. They provide a breeding ground for commercially and recreationally important fish, protect shorelines from erosion and improve coastal water quality. Historically, mangroves were undervalued, leading to a loss of 35% of mangroves worldwide and 44% in Tampa Bay due to anthropogenic stressors. Efforts to protect and restore mangroves have led to a variety of management programs. In Tampa Bay the main management program is the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP). The program has identified the need for simple and easy to use assessment tools to track mangrove quality and aid in mangrove quality. There are several types of assessment methods recommended for measuring habitat quality. Among these approaches, environmental indices are favorable because they are simple and easy to use as well as objective measures of habitat quality. Indices are most effective when configured to a specific habitat.

Although similar assessment methods have been developed for several habitats, there are none specifically for estuarine wetlands in peninsular Florida. This study aims to fill this gap and create an index to assess the quality of mangroves in Tampa Bay and measure the impact of human activities on the habitat. The index was created by measuring a variety of physical characteristics in three reference wetlands of varying quality. Cockroach Bay was the highest quality wetland in the most pristine condition, Weedon Island moderately impacted and Feather Sound the most highly impacted and lowest quality. Metrics for the index were determined by performing simple correlation analysis of the physical characteristics and condition. The characteristics strongly correlating to conditions were selected as metrics. Based on this analysis, a mangrove quality index (MQI) was recommended for Tampa Bay. This index contains three categories: biota, vegetation and water.

The resulting MQI is recommended for use by mangrove managers and policy makers to ensure the protection and restoration of Tampa Bay's mangroves.

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