Port Tampa Bay has risen to the challenge of being an industrial seaport that remains deeply committed to environmental sustainability. As one of the first ports in the nation to have a dedicated environmental department, Port Tampa Bay is deeply committed to environmental sustainability and natural resource protection. I’d like to share a few examples that highlight Port Tampa Bay’s plan for energy transformation, sustainability solutions and green infrastructure.
Our port is located on Tampa Bay, Florida’s largest open water estuary, an estuary of national significance, and we take our role in protecting our neighboring ecosystem seriously. An example of Port Tampa Bay’s sustainability efforts includes the creation of two islands in Hillsborough Bay, where material removed from shipping channels is stored. These islands have become home to globally significant populations of nesting birds, including the American Oystercatcher and Least Tern, some of the state’s rarest species. We continue to find innovative beneficial uses for dredge spoil materials, such as the filling of a deep oxygen-poor dredge hole in McKay Bay and several ongoing beach nourishment projects. Additionally, our award-winning restoration projects create tidal wetlands, mangrove forests, and improve water quality and habitat.
Unique to any port in the country, we own and manage over 200,000 acres of sovereignty submerged lands in Hillsborough County, held in trust for the public. Our submerged lands management program and multiple restoration projects have added to the ongoing recovery of Tampa Bay’s habitat and water quality.
Additionally, our port is ready to rise to the ongoing challenge of climate change through preparedness and resiliency efforts with local, state and federal partners, and the port community, to build resiliency into our port operations. Port Tampa Bay was the first port in the nation recognized as “Storm Ready” by the National Weather Service. On the Port Resiliency Index, developed by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, we scored 95%. Each year, our port hosts an annual hurricane exercise in advance of hurricane season. Additionally, we have developed an off-site operations center in Winter Haven, Florida, which allows the port to operate its vital programs in case it is shut down due to an emergency. This year our preparedness efforts were tested, as our port and our community braced for the possible impact of Hurricane Ian. Thankfully, our port was spared from major damage but our neighbors in Southwest Florida were not as fortunate and our hearts are with them as they work toward recovery.
Port Tampa Bay conducts annual storm water inspections and hosts annual pollution prevention trainings with our staff and tenants to protect our waterways. Additionally, we recently collaborated with the National Stormwater Trust on a new smart pond. During Hurricane Ian, the water level in our smart pond was automatically lowered by almost four feet before the first hurricane bands began to impact the region. That extra storage enabled the capture of over 175,000 cubic feet of untreated stormwater, preventing its discharge into the neighboring community and nearby Tampa Bay.
Our port and tenants reduce air emissions by scheduling truck arrivals to reduce idling of trucks in and around port operations. We also lobbied for the construction of the Crosstown Connector, creating a dedicated truck lane from I-4 to the port, reducing emissions and wear on local roads. In Spring of 2023, our port will welcome upgraded electric gantry cranes to replace the traditional diesel cranes. The entire port is a designated Brownfield Redevelopment Area, and has spent millions of dollars cleaning up contaminated industrial sites.
Port Tampa Bay is committed to protecting the quality of the air and water in and around the port by continuously working with our tenants and the port community to minimize the impact of day-to-day operations. Our port collaborates with environmental leaders to take part in clean-ups, to brainstorm ways to prevent litter and debris from entering waterways, and to get the community involved in the sustainability of our region. In 2021, our port hosted the first-ever Great Port Clean-Up, removing more than 19,000 pounds of trash and marine debris from several sites in and around our port. This event received the Award of Excellence from AAPA and has served as a model for other seaports in the United States. The 2022 event removed more than 36,600 pounds of trash and debris. Port Tampa Bay is a member of the “Hillsborough Trash Free Waters Partnership,” committed to keep our waters clean and beautiful for future generations. We also participate in coastal clean-ups through a partnership with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, as well as committing to be a “Business for the Bay” through the Reduce Your Use Campaign — a partnership between Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and the City of Tampa. This port partnership was recently honored as the best in the state by Keep Florida Beautiful.
In addition to all of these efforts, Port Tampa Bay created an internal Maritime Sustainability Team (MaST) whose focus has been to reduce waste, conserve energy and raise our carbon consciousness among staff. Finally, I serve as the chair of the Florida Ocean Alliance, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to bringing together the private sector, academia and nonprofit research organizations in Florida to protect and enhance the state’s coastal and ocean resources for continued social and economic benefits.
Our tenants and staff demonstrate daily that nature and industry can co-exist. We must all prepare to adapt and transform our port operations to ensure seaports can support green infrastructure and alternative energy needs. Port Tampa Bay and our tenants are up for the challenges and opportunities ahead.