Islands in Tampa Bay

Islands in Tampa Bay

Written by Boatsetter Team
November 24, 2021

Last Updated on November 29, 2021 by Boatsetter Team

The Tampa Bay area is the place to be for boat lovers, wildlife seekers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The beautiful year-round weather offers plenty of opportunities to get out and explore the clear waters throughout the area. Boaters enjoy seeing the many spoil and barrier islands within the bays and just off the coast. These islands are home to unique wildlife, quiet places to relax and help protect Florida’s beautiful coastline.

What are the islands in Hillsborough Bay?

Hillsborough Bay is home to many islands, some natural and some artificial. Many of these islands are a sanctuary for local wildlife and home to many unique birds. One bird sanctuary is the Alafia Bank Sanctuary, located in the bay at the mouth of the Alafia River. 

This sanctuary has two man-made islands formed from spoil material when the channel that connects the main Tampa shipping channel to the Alafia River was dredged out. Since the 1920s, birds have been nesting on the island, and trees and shrubs have matured. Now the islands are home to gulls, terns, skimmers, herons, egrets, ibis, and pelicans. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has listed Alafia Bank Sanctuary as one of the most important bird colonies in the state.

The Alafia Extension was added in 1977 to the west of Sunken Island as part of another dredging project. As a result, the island now has tall mangroves, tidal pools, sand, and mudflats. In addition, tiny creeks and salt barrens have recently developed, providing a safe nesting and feeding environment for breeding and migratory birds.

Green Key and Whiskey Stump Key area also in the Hillsborough Bay and were part of the original Tampa Bay Sanctuary Islands. These islands are protected, providing necessary foraging and loafing habitats for local and migratory birds. In addition, a monument has been placed in a quiet area of cabbage palms to honor the memory of Dr. H.R. Mills, a Tampa pathologist who was a crucial person in the development of the sanctuary.

Is Davis Island a man-made island?

davis island tampa

Davis Island, also located in the Hillsborough Bay, is a man-made island created when dredged sand from the bay was dumped over three small existing islands and the mudflats near the mouth of the Hillsborough River. Tampa native D.P. Davis spearheaded the efforts to dredge the bay and use the sand to create Davis Island. More than 5,500 residents currently live on Davis Island in an exclusive South Tampa community, with quiet streets in a one-of-a-kind community.

Why are islands important to Florida?

You probably noticed several small islands out in the bays, lagoons, and just off the coast when traveling along Florida’s coastlines. Many of these islands were man-made when bays and channels were dug out, but several islands were there when the early settlers discovered and explored Florida. The islands in Florida are unique and very beneficial to the state’s wildlife.

Here are several reasons why islands are so important to Florida and native wildlife:

  • Islands host many rare species and are a hotspot for biodiversity
  • Islands show the consequences of sea-level changes
  • Islands are resting, and nesting stops for migratory birds
  • Islands provide foundations for coral reef ecosystems
  • Islands protect wildlife and plants
  • Islands protect about ten percent of the coastlines worldwide and protect Florida when hurricanes and storms approach

Protecting Tampa area islands

Like the Boy Scouts teach, following the “Leave No Trace” motto is vital when visiting and exploring the Tampa area islands. You can visit select (approved) islands without disturbing the environment too much. 

Essentially, do everything possible to clean up after yourself, leave things where you find them, and respect the wildlife. Before visiting an island in Hillsborough Bay, verify it is an island you can visit, explore, and dock on the island. Many islands, especially sanctuary islands, do not allow humans to dock a boat or explore.

Boating safety around islands

In order to help preserve the islands in the Tampa Bay area, it is first essential to know which islands can and cannot be landed or docked on. This information can be found at a local visitors center or marina.

Tampa sandbars safety

When taking out a boat rental near the islands in the Tampa area, watch for shallow water to ensure you do not ground the boat or catch the motor in the sandbars or underwater vegetation.

When taking out a boat rental, tell someone your boating plans and itinerary, including approximately where you plan to go boating. Also, let them know when you plan to return and that you will call them when you do. This way, if something happens, and you do not return, they have an idea of where to search for you.

Can you dock your boat on an island in Hillsborough Bay?

Most of the islands in Hillsborough Bay and throughout most of the Tampa area are not dockable. Islands are not dockable is mainly because there is no place to dock the boat and because many of the islands in the area are preserved. 

It is illegal to dock or explore islands that are part of preservation projects because the government protects them. However, other islands not protected or considered a preserve can be explored and docked on. Check with the local government to see which islands can and cannot be anchored on.

Are there boat ramps on Hillsborough Bay?

There are two main boat ramps boaters can access on Hillsborough Bay. The Marjorie Park and Marina and Davis Island Boat Ramp offer a way for boaters to access the waters of the area and dock their boat while they are on land exploring.

Activities on dockable islands

When able to dock on or anchor near a Tampa area island, boaters enjoy many exciting outdoor activities. Activities on dockable islands include fishing from the shore, photography, wildlife watching, camping, swimming, and picnicking. In addition, there is no shortage of things to explore when on one of the islands, including hidden trails and exposed sandbars, all of which offer near endless things to do and experience.

There’s no better way to reach these islands than with a Tampa boat rental. Take out a captained or bareboat and enjoy a day out on the water!

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