Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Refuge Manager
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 6504
Titusville, Florida 32780

Pelican Island stands today as a monument to our historic past and the National Wildlife Refuge System it spawned. From this small beginning has grown the world's largest and most diverse land base for the protection and management of wildlife. Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant and boat builder, became the first manager of Pelican Island due to his affection for pelicans and his concern for their habitat and protection.

Pelican Island, a small three-acre island on Florida's east coast, holds a unique place in America's conservation history. It became the Nation's first national wildlife refuge in 1903. From this beginning has grown a National Wildlife Refuge System of almost 500 refuges encompassing about 93 million acres.

But today, nearly 100 years later, this national historic landmark is threatened by residential and commercial development. Because of its national significance as the birthplace of the National Refuge System, Pelican Island needs immediate protection from these developments.

On March 14, 1903, President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt issued an Executive Order that set aside Pelican Island as a "preserve and breeding ground for native birds." This historic event marked the first federal lands dedicated to the protection of wildlife. Today that system has grown to become the world's largest network of lands managed for wildlife. But it all began at Pelican Island!

The waters and wetlands of Pelican Island are the lifeblood of the refuge and form a major ecological system that supports hundreds of species of birds, fish, plants, and mammals. In terms of biological diversity, the Indian River Lagoon around Pelican Island has been described as one of the most productive in the United States. Fifteen federally listed threatened and endangered species live here, including a large population of manatees. The lagoon also serves as a vital nursery for juvenile sea turtles. Two wood stork rookeries are found within the refuge. A tremendous assemblage of fish provide food for the wading birds that nest on Pelican Island. Nesting birds include the brown pelican, common egret, snowy egret, reddish egret, great blue heron, little blue heron, tri-color heron, black-crowned night heron, white ibis, glossy ibis, double-crested cormorant, anhinga and oyster catcher.

Over the years, Pelican Island has faced many threats from those who wished to exploit or destroy its wildlife and natural habitats. But each time concerned citizens and environmental organizations rose to the challenge and the threats were overcome.

Today, Pelican Island faces perhaps its most serious threat, the development of its shoreline. Shoreline development can reduce the area's water quality by increasing the runoff of sediments, fertilizers and pesticides. Any decline in water quality can directly affect the food base which sustains the island's nesting bird colonies. Waterfront development can also lead to more boat traffic which has already adversely affected the nesting birds. But equally important, the development of the shorelines at Pelican Island will permanently flaw the pristine character of this unique National Historic Landmark.

Will Pelican Island endure this latest threat? Will the birds continue to nest on the island when the refuge celebrates its Centennial in 2003? Action is needed now to ensure that this historic refuge will continue to provide the essential public benefits envisioned by President Roosevelt almost one hundred years ago.

Plan of Action
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to take the following steps to preserve and protect Pelican Island and to provide the public opportunity to learn about its historic significance and wildlife values:

Acquire an insulating buffer along the eastern boundary to protect the refuge from encroaching residential development. Acquire lands for development of administrative and visitor facilities. Approximately 900 acres of mangroves, other subtidal habitats and some uplands will be needed. About one half of the acquisition area is state owned and will be obtained through a lease agreement.

Develop administrative and visitor facilities including a visitor center where the story of the birth and growth of the National Wildlife Refuge System will be told. Other planned developments include a rookery viewing site, an aquarium, and wildlife observation trails. Administrative offices and maintenance facilities for both Pelican Island and the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge will be located here.

This information was provided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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