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Merritt Island
National Wildlife Refuge


American Avocets use the shallow, marshy areas of the refuge in the winter and can usually be seen on Black Point Wildlife Drive foraging for insects and small crustaceans.
State Road 402 (5 miles east of Titusville)
Titusville, FL   32782
E-mail: merrittisland@fws.gov
Phone Number: 321-861-0667
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
http://www.fws.gov/merrittisland/
American Avocets are just one of the migratory birds that visit Merritt Island NWR in the winter. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds use the refuge from Oct. to March.
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  Overview
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
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.

The objectives of MINWR are to provide habitat for migratory birds, to protect endangered and threatened species, to provide habitat for natural wildlife diversity, and to provide opportunities for environmental education, interpretation, and compatible wildlife-oriented recreation. In addition, as part of a complex, MINWR administers Lake Wales Ridge and St. John's National Wildlife Refuges.


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.


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Wildlife and Habitat

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 Floridas Atlantic coast. This lack of development makes this beach prime for sea turtle nesting.

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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.

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    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Fishing
Hunting
Interpretation
Photography
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
Management of the water levels within the Refuge's 76 impoundments is strategic for enhancing the habitat for a variety of wildlife species including migratory birds, wading birds and shorebirds. Prescribed fire is instrumental in maintaining fire dependent/fire influenced communities at the Refuge, including forests and scrub habitats. Chemical and mechanical control of invasive exotic species including Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, and Australian pine is applied to provide space for native plants.

In addition, the thinning of pine stands is conducted to improve bald eagle nesting habitat. Wildlife surveys are conducted for several species of wildlife annually. Public education and outreach programming is conducted to help instill conservation ethics.

In 2002, The Sendler Education Pavilion was opened to accommodate environmental education programming for school children. The Refuge has an active law enforcement division to protect both wildlife habitat and the visiting public. Maintaining and enhancing productive partnerships with NASA, state agencies, local agencies and other federal agencies is also a primary management tool.