Tampa Bay is a large natural harbor and estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico on the west central coast of Florida, comprising Hillsboro Bay, McKay Bay, Old Tampa Bay, Middle Tampa Bay, and Lower Tampa Bay. The surrounding area is home to about 4 million residents, making it a heavily used commercial and recreational waterway but putting much stress on the bay's ecosystem, which once teemed with enough wildlife to easily support an extensive indigenous culture. Much greater care has been taken in recent decades to mitigate the effects of human habitation on Tampa Bay, and water quality has slowly improved 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.