TERRA CEIA AQUATIC PRESERVE
Northwest end of Bishop Harbor Rd
(use 1012 or 8892 Bishop Harbor Rd to map it)
Palmetto, FL 34221
Driving across the Skyway from Pinellas County to Terra Ceia is like taking a step back in time. In sharp contrast to Tampa Bay’s urban areas, the natural, historical and cultural resources of Terra Ceia give us a glimpse of Florida’s past that many are working to restore and preserve.
The preserve shoreline is dominated by mangroves and numerous mangrove islands. Submerged habitats include oyster bars and seagrass beds. Areas of hardbottom habitat are colonized by hard and soft coral species. Tidal creeks, sinkholes and other geological features have added to the complexity of the Terra Ceia shoreline.
At least five species of bats forage for insects over the waters in Terra Ceia. A single bat can eat thousands of insects in one evening. White pelicans and other migratory birds species arrive from thousands of miles away during their southward winter migrations.
Over 70% of commercially important fish and shellfish species rely on estuaries at some stage of their lives.
The State Park consists of 1,988 acres, while the Aquatic Preserve covers 25,786 acres. One of 41 Aquatic Preserves located State wide, Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve consists of submerged lands of exceptional environmental quality in lower Tampa Bay. The Terra Ceia Preserve State Park consists of lands above the mean high water line adjacent to the aquatic preserve that serve to protect and enhance the resources of the aquatic preserve. The preserve state park contains both uplands and wetlands that support a diverse assemblage of native plants and wildlife, including several species classified as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. These lands provide protection for the water quality and other resources of the adjacent environmentally sensitive areas, and provide continuity of habitats and corridors for wildlife.
The Aquatic Preserve and State Park are managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserve Program, based at Terra Ceia, which is also responsible for managing the majority of the State owned islands and all of the Aquatic Preserves in the Tampa Bay area.
The park and preserve are located on lower Tampa Bay in Manatee County, and straddle I-275 in the vicinity of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves and Terra Ceia Preserve State Park headquarters are located at the old Haley House, 130 Terra Ceia Road, in Terra Ceia. The main access to the water for small motorized boats, canoes and kayaks is at Bishop Harbor.
The preserve and state park contain extremely valuable estuarine, coastal wetland and upland habitat, including seagrass beds, mangrove swamp, salt barrens, salt marsh, coastal berm, coastal hammock, hydric pine flatwoods, or wet flatwoods, and hardwood hammock. Tidal creeks, including
Frog Creek, thread through the uplands and wetlands before emptying into the bay.
The wetlands of the preserve are largely undisturbed and provide habitat for an abundant variety of native and commercially valuable species, including red fish, tarpon, snook, mullet, blue crab, pink shrimp and brown shrimp. The preserve provides both nursery areas and foraging areas for marine life and migratory species such as shorebirds, waterfowl and wading birds.
Portions of the state park uplands were cleared for agriculture in the past, and are undergoing habitat restoration. Highly invasive exotic plant species, including Brazilian pepper, Australian pine and Melaleuca, are being eradicated from the preserve.
Fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, birdwatching and nature study are popular activities in the preserve. Manatee County has established a “blueway” system, a series of canoe and kayak trails, throughout the County. Two sections of the trail are located in the preserve, with numbered markers and a corresponding map to provide orientation. The section north of the Skyway Bridge causeway is the Bishop Harbor Trail, and the section to the south is the Terra Ceia Trail. A guide booklet
with trail maps and color illustrations is available from Manatee County.
Hiking trails within the preserve are planned.
© April L. Gustetter