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 Islands Information

Place: Merritt Island Florida

Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Florida
State Road 402 (5 miles east of Titusville)
Titusville, FL 32782

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) headquarters is located five miles east of U.S. 1 in Titusville, Florida. The Refuge, which is an overlay of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, was established in August 1963 to provide a buffer zone for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the quest for space exploration. Approximately one half the Refuge's 140,000 acres consist of brackish estuaries and marshes. The remaining lands consist of coastal dunes, scrub oaks, pine forests and flatwoods, and palm and oak hammocks.

The coastal location of MINWR, with its seven distinct habitat types and position between the subtropic and temperate zones contribute to the Refuge's importance as a major wintering area for migratory birds. Over 500 species of wildlife inhabit the Refuge with 16 currently listed as federally threatened or endangered. Several wading bird rookeries, approximately 10 active bald eagle nests, numerous osprey nests, up to 400 manatees and an estimated 2,500 Florida scrub jays can be found on the Refuge.

Wildlife

A wide variety of habitats exist on the refuge, ranging from freshwater impoundments to vast saltwater estuaries. Gradually, the marshes give way to hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, scrub and coastal dunes. Seven distinct habitats provide for over 330 species of birds, 31 species of mammals, 117 species of fish, 68 species of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 species of plants. The refuge also supports 16 wildlife species listed as federally threatened or endangered.

The most productive and diversified areas of the refuge are the marshes. These shallow water grasslands provide a home for crabs, worms, clams and fish, which attract animals higher in the food chain such as birds, river otters, American alligators and raccoons. Refuge marshes attract hundreds of thousands of migratory birds every year, who travel from the north to feed and rest here during the winter. This type of habitat can be seen from Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven-mile auto tour through refuge wetlands and uplands.

Scrub is a habitat unique to Florida, and one of the most important habitats for endangered species in the state. Species like the scrub jay, gopher tortoise and indigo snake rely on this habitat for food and shelter. The scrub oak acorn, for example, is a primary food source for the Florida scrub jay. You can possibly view these animals and their habitat from the one-mile scrub ridge trail.

The refuge also serves as one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in the United States, averaging over 1300 loggerhead nests each year. It is also an important nesting area for the green sea turtle and leatherback sea turtle. A 43-mile stretch of beach from the south end of Cape Canaveral Air Station to the north end of Canaveral National Seashore composes the longest section of undeveloped beach on Florida.s Atlantic coast. This lack of development makes this beach prime for sea turtle nesting.

History

The forces of wind, waves and fluctuating sea levels shaped the alternating ridges, swales and marshes of Merritt Island. Over the millennium, human occupation has ebbed and flowed just as the sand dunes have. Archaeological data suggest the island was inhabited by at least seven distinct Indian cultures as early as 7,000 B.C. Burial mounds and shell middens are all that remain today. Spanish explorers, British colonists, pioneer citrus growers and civil war troops all contributed to the history of Merritt Island.

The incessant salt marsh mosquito kept Merritt Island largely uninhabited until the early 1960's, when NASA began acquiring land that is now John F. Kennedy Space Center. In 1963, land acquisitions were complete, and those lands not vital to the space program were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, this 43 mile long barrier island is managed as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore.

Getting There . . .
From I-95: take Exit 220 (SR 406, Garden St.) east through Titusville. Cross over the Indian River Lagoon. The Refuge entrance sign and information kiosk are located on the east side of the Indian River Lagoon. Refuge maps and brochures are available at the kiosk. Continue east for 4 miles to reach the visitor information center, located on the right side of the road. From U.S. 1: follow U.S. 1 to Titusville. At the intersection with SR 406 (Garden St.), turn east. Cross over the Indian River Lagoon and follow the above directions.

Fishing

Fishing and crabbing is permitted on the Refuge in accordance with State regulations in the open waters of the Indian River, Banana River, Mosquito Lagoon, mosquito control impoundments and interior lakes except for the Kennedy Space Center security areas and Black Point Wildlife Drive. Please contact Refuge headquarters for specific information. Boat/canoe launching is limited to designated launch areas. Five boat launches are located at the Refuge. Boat speed regulations are in effect in several areas.

Hunting

Waterfowl hunting is permitted on 36,000 acres of the Refuge's 140,000 acres in designated hunt areas from November through January. Concentrations of waterfowl occur in the open waters of Mosquito Lagoon and in the brackish and fresh water impoundments during the fall and winter. Common species include scaup, mottled ducks, blue-winged teal, pintail and American wigeon. The open season for ducks and coots is concurrent with seasons established by the State of Florida. A Refuge permit and a hunter safety certification is required and all state, federal and Refuge regulations apply. Please contact the Refuge headquarters for specific information.

Wildlife Watching - Photography

The best place to view wildlife on the Refuge is Black Point Wildlife Drive. This seven-mile one-way, self-guided drive travels through fresh and saltwater marshes. The drive offers several numbered stops, which are described in a brochure available at the entrance to the drive or at the visitor information center. Wading birds, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, alligators, river otters, bobcats and other species of wildlife can be spotted along the drive. Buses and large motor vehicles are prohibited on the drive.

Five hiking trails, ranging from 1/4 mile to five miles in length, a manatee observation deck, an observation tower, and several dike roads open to the public offer alternative wildlife viewing opportunities. One of the best ways for viewing wildlife on the Refuge is by canoe or kayak. Wheelchair accessibility is available at the Refuge visitor information center and its boardwalk, the manatee observation deck and Eddy Creek.

A manatee-viewing platform located at the northeast side of Haulover Canal is the best spot on the Refuge to see manatees. Manatees frequent this spot year-round but can be seen more reliably in spring and fall. Interpretive panels at the platform provide information about this endangered species.

Information Provided by:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service