Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Office of External Affairs, Southeast Region
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd.
Atlanta, GA 30345

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Story Ideas

Saving Birds and Creating the American Conservation Movement

Walk in the footsteps of Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant and boat builder who at the dawn of the 20th century risked life and limb during The Feather Wars to save pelicans and other colonial water birds from extinction. Kroegel was one of four men hired by Audubon in the early1900s to protect Florida’s dwindling bird populations from market hunters. Two of the wardens were murdered, but Kroegel survived to become the first national wildlife refuge manager.

Pelican Island is the birthplace of a great American ideal - that wildlife and wild places should be protected. This is the location where President Theodore Roosevelt sparked the wildlife conservation movement. At Pelican Island, Florida, TR created America’s first national wildlife refuge, and went on to establish an additional 54 during his two terms as President.

One of the World’s Natural Wonders

Almost 100 years after the President’s bold leadership combined with Paul Kroegel’s heroics, the pelicans are still thriving on Pelican Island. For reasons not completely understood by biologists, pelicans, endangered woodstorks, and other birds prefer to nest and roost at Pelican Island over numerous other small islands in the Indian River Lagoon, the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. Pelican Island is one of the wonders of the natural world.

Saving America’s Treasure

Since TR’s bold move to create a system of federal lands for wildlife, the first refuge has struggled to survive. In 1926, the birds temporarily abandoned the island and the government discontinued Kroegel’s position. When the birds returned a few years later, the position wasn’t refilled, and it remained unmanaged until the1960s, when Pelican Island was threatened by residential development. Local citizens led the successful fight to protect the refuge, which included the designation of the island as a National Historical Landmark.

Aggressive island restoration and management has saved Pelican Island from disappearing all togther. Since 1970, Pelican Island has eroded severely, reduced from its original five acres to less than three. Since 2000,the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with several federal, state and local agencies and NGOs to stabilize the island shoreline. Tons of oyster shell material have been placed by helicopter along the edge of the original island to create a natural wave break. Students working alongside biologists have planted mangroves and cordgrass to help build up the island and restore vegetation. On buffer lands adjacent to the island, orange groves and exotic species including Brazilian pepper and Australian pine have been removed and the habitat is being returned to native vegetation, including a series of freshwater lakes and ephemeral ponds.

An Outdoor Recreation Paradise

The waters of the Indian River Lagoon surrounding Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge offer excellent recreational opportunities. Fishing for redfish, snook, sea trout, mangrove snapper, and other species is popular. Recreational shellfishing is permitted in the refuge boundaries. Pelican Island and the surrounding Indian River Lagoon offer excellent opportunities for wildlife photography and observation.

- FWS -

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