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Tampa Bay is a large natural harbor and shallow estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico on the west central coast of Florida, comprising Hillsborough Bay, McKay Bay, Old Tampa Bay, Middle Tampa Bay, and Lower Tampa Bay. The largest freshwater inflow into the bay is the Hillsborough River, which flows into Hillsborough Bay in downtown Tampa. Many other smaller rivers and streams also flow into Tampa Bay, resulting in a large watershed area. The shores of Tampa Bay were home to the Weedon Island Culture and then the Safety Harbor Culture for thousands of years. These cultures relied heavily on Tampa Bay for food, and the waters were rich enough that they were one of the few Native American cultures that did not have to farm. When the first European explorers arrived in the early 1500s, the Tocobaga was likely the dominate chiefdom in the area. The indigenous population had been decimated by disease and warfare by the late 1600s, and there were no permanent human settlements in the area for over a century. The United States took possession of Florida in 1821 and established Fort Brooke at the mouth of the Hillsborough River in 1824. The communities surrounding Tampa Bay grew tremendously during the 20th century. Today, the area is home to about 4 million residents, making Tampa Bay a heavily used commercial and recreational waterway and putting much stress on the bay’s ecosystem, which had once teemed with wildlife. The bay was seriously polluted by the early 1980s, resulting in a sharp decline in sea life and decreased recreational use. Much greater care has been taken in recent decades to mitigate the effects of human habitation on New Tampa Bay, most notably upgraded sewage treatment facilities and sea grass restoration projects, which has resulted in improved water quality over time. The term “Tampa Bay” is sometimes used as shorthand to refer to all or parts of the Tampa Bay area, which comprises many towns and cities in several counties surrounding the large body of water. Local marketing and branding efforts (including several professional sports teams, tourist boards, and chambers of commerce) commonly use the moniker “Tampa Bay”, furthering the misconception that it is the name of a particular municipality when this is not the case.