- north of Shields Point
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Photo courtesy of © Paula J. Griffin
Blackwater Bay is a recessed, brackish coastal body of water in Santa Rosa County fed primarily by Blackwater River and Yellow River. Approximately 9.7 square miles of water make up Blackwater Bay which flows directly into East Bay, a larger bay to its south.
Blackwater Bay is part of the Pensacola Bay Estuarine System which includes four bays, a sound, and four rivers. The four bays and sound are Escambia Bay, Pensacola Bay, Blackwater Bay, East Bay, and Santa Rosa Sound. The four rivers are the Escambia, Blackwater, Yellow, and East Rivers. This estuarine system is the fourth largest in Florida and covers 144 square miles.
(Right; Below) Blackwater Bay forms a transition zone between fresh and salt water making it an extremely productive natural habitat that is ideal for fishing. Having a combination fishing license is recommended.
As an estuary, Blackwater Bay forms a transition zone between fresh and salt water and is subject to tides, waves, and the influx of saline water as well as flows of fresh water and sediment. The brackish environment is very high in nutrients making it an extremely productive natural habitat.
(Above) Blackwater Bay is part of the Pensacola Bay Estuarine System which includes four bays, a sound, and four rivers. This estuarine system is the fourth largest in Florida and covers 144 square miles. Learn more about protective measures for this valuable sytem at: ppbep.org
- Bostic Tract
The boundaries of Blackwater Bay start roughly from Black Hammock on Garcon Point, then north to Oakland Basin, then east to Pelican Bayou, then south to Escribano Point.
(Above) The Brown Pelican, also known as Pelecanus occidentalis, is often seen on Blackwater Bay. Its numbers have successfully rebounded after the insecticide DDT was banned. Today, habitat degradation, sea level rise, pollution, and the destruction of coastal wetlands are its main threats.
Many species of fish and aquatic animals spend all or part of their life cycle in Blackwater Bay where they are able to feed, spawn, and/or find sheltered sites suitable for a nursery. The abundance of juvenile and adult species of fish attracts resident and migratory shore birds to feed and roost.
Also feeding on various fish and marine invertebrates are small pods of Dolphins. These aquatic mammals are often seen with their calves as far up as Oakland Basin.
(Right) A Bottle-nose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) breaks the surface of Blackwater Bay at sunrise amid the haze of fog. Dolphins consume more than 20 pounds of fish and marine invertebrates each day. While not threatened, three notable dolphin die-offs in the Florida Panhandle were attributed to the consumption of prey fish containing high concentrations of brevetoxins produced by Karenia brevis, the red tide organism.
Photo courtesy of © Paula J. Griffin
(Above) Osprey, also known as Pandion haliaetus, are readily observed fishing in Blackwater Bay. This species has also recovered in Florida after the ban of DDT; however, habitat loss, degraded water quality, pesticides, and exposure to mercury are on-going threats.
An integral part of Blackwater Bay is its wetlands which are located in the intertidal zone. The dense vegetation and shallow waters serve as a natural infrastructure to dissipate wave energy and slow the advance of storm surge. The wetlands naturally improve water quality and control shoreline erosion while providing an excellent habit for fish and wildlife.
(Above) These clumps of Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) dissipate wave energy and help control shoreline erosion while providing an excellent habitat for fish and wildlife.
(Right) This wetlands area on Blackwater Bay naturally improves water quality and serves as a natural infrastructure to slow the advance of storm surge.
Shields Point Wetlands
(Above) The Great Blue Heron, also known as Ardea herodias, feeds on fish, amphibians, snakes, crustaceans, insects, and small mammals in the wetlands surrounding Blackwater Bay.
Within the wetlands, many diverse organisms are adapted to the tidal cycles and seasonal flooding from rain. These fluctuations create a nutrient-rich environment that is vital for the various fish, amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl, wading birds, and wetland mammals inhabiting this ecosystem.
By preserving Blackwater Bay and its wetlands as an estuary-coastal wetland system, this natural resource attracts recreational enthusiasts from all over. New businesses such as Blackwater Bay Tours are focusing on eco-tourism where nature and wildlife observers enjoy the beauty of Blackwater Bay and its historic significance.
Historically, Blackwater Bay was an active water route where vessels provided multiple services to communities, towns, and industrial sites along its shores. The area was prosperous even as Civil War broke out.
Grassy Point - Blackwater Bay
(Above) This aerial photo of Blackwater Bay encompasses Grassy Point and a large portion of Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area.
In conjunction with the evacuation, Confederate General Braxton Bragg issued orders for the destruction of all industry and assets to prevent them from falling into Union hands.
In 1862, a major Union advance occurred which brought about the with-drawal of Confederate troops from the area.
To learn more about historic points of interest along Blackwater Bay, click on the BMHT logo above to link to the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail website.
On March 11, 1862, these orders were carried out under the command of Lt. Col. William K. Beard of the 1st Florida Regiment Volunteers during the Confederate retreat into Alabama. Devastation and ashes were left in the wake of Beard’s raid. Not only was every industrial and private asset destroyed, but every boat they found was burned.
Even though the town of Bagdad was devastated as a result of the Civil War, its lumber and shipping industry quickly recovered. By 1900, Bagdad was one of the largest producers of yellow pine lumber and had shipped more yellow pine lumber than any port in the world. At its height, more than a hundred ships could be seen approaching, departing, or moored in the bay system awaiting their turn at port.
A rich array of activity was found on Blackwater Bay in spite of its relatively shallow depth. Most of the larger vessels such as schooners, clippers, scows, flatboats, and steamers were used for commercial purposes. Various smaller boats were used for fishing, oyster harvesting, touring, and pleasure.
(Above) This collection of shells is from an eroded midden at Bayside Campground inside Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area. They represent some of the food preferences of early Native Americans that once inhabited the area.
(Left; Below) At Bayside Campground, small boats can be hand-launched from a sandy shoreline. The most popular activities are birdwatching and other types of nature appreciation as well as kayaking, canoeing, boating, and fishing.
Schooners were the most common type of ship seen in the bay as they were excellent vessels for sailing in coastal waters. Their design enabled them to handle changing winds and shallower waters. Both factors, which are common to Blackwater Bay, would affect a vessel’s course and put navigational skills to the test.
Steamer ferries were another familiar site for residents on Blackwater Bay. In 1898, the Steamboat City of Tampa operated out of Milton, Florida, as a packet boat delivering passengers and goods between Pensacola, Bay Point Mill, Bagdad, and Milton. It was common for passengers to travel on the steamer as there were no bridges across the Escambia or Blackwater Rivers.
(Right) Within the past 10 years, 80 feet of shoreline has been lost within the Yellow River Marsh Aquatic Preserve. The erosion is mostly from amplified wave energy caused by the use of seawalls, breakwaters, and riprap along the bay by property owners attempting to stabilize their coastal land. Restoration efforts will reduce the effects of wave energy and allow for emergent vegetation to stabilize the shoreline.
Yellow River Marsh
(Above; Below) Black needlerush, also known as Juncus roemerianus, is a predominate salt marsh grass in Blackwater Bay that provides an excellent habitat for key bird species and cover for small mammals like the marsh rabbit pictured below.
In 1921, the City of Tampa caught fire in the night while undergoing repairs. Her mooring line burned, allowing the steamer to drift into Blackwater Bay. She burned to the waterline then sank to the bottom.
To learn more about shipwrecks and historic places on Blackwater Bay, visit the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail website to experience a comprehensive virtual tour guide that highlights the historical, recreational, and cultural points of interest along Blackwater Bay.
Photo courtesy of © Paula J. Griffin
(Left) Escribano Point is a popular boating destination known for its characteristic long white sandbar where Blackwater Bay empties into East Bay. Funding from the Deep Water Horizon settlement has been set aside for a shoreline restoration project that will curve erosion and enhance the marine habitat off this point.
(Below) Escribano Point is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Adhere to FWC Regulations and Boating Safety Requirements for a safe and memorable experience on Blackwater Bay.
Adhere to FWC Regulations and Boating Safety Requirements. Understand that Blackwater Bay is a more remote, larger body of water where you are in control of your own personal safety.
Have a float plan and let someone know where you are going and when you are due back. By following these suggestions, one can expect to have a memorable experience exploring the beauty and historic relevance of Blackwater Bay.
As always, use care on the waterways. Be aware of weather and bay conditions before you launch.
Click FWC logo above for link
On behalf of BWFP and FPAN, we hope you visit the Historic Village of Bagdad. From our shores, you are welcome to launch into your own adventure on the beautiful Blackwater River and use the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail to enrich your experience.