Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Planning & Management

Refuge Facts

  • Established:  March 14, 1903 - Officially the first refuge
  • Established by Executive Order of President Theodore Roosevelt
  • Acres:  5,375
  • Located:  Indian River County, Florida
  • Other management:  lease with Florida for open waters and islands, conservation easement with water management district and mosquito control district for impoundments; management agreement with Indian River County for uplands, and land withdrawal by Bureau of Land Management.
  • Location:  the refuge is located in the Indian River Lagoon just south of Sebastian Inlet, north of the Wabasso Causeway and east of Intracoastal Waterway.  The nearest community is Sebastian located near the western boundary of the refuge.
  • Administers Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Financial Impacts of the Refuge

  • Permanent, full-time staff of six (shared duties for Archie Carr NWR)
  • 30,000 annual visitors, by boat

Refuge Objectives

  • Protect the historic rookery on Pelican Island.
  • Protect, enhance, and restore marsh and lagoon habitat for migratory birds.
  • Provide habitat for threatened and endangered species.
  • Protect Pelican Island as a National Historic Landmark, National Wilderness Area, and Wetland of International Importance.
  • Increase public understanding through outreach, interpretation, environmental education, and compatible recreation.

Management Tools

  • Wetland restoration
  • Outreach/education
  • Law enforcement
  • Mechanical/chemical control of exotic plants
  • Partnerships through Pelican Island working group
  • Cooperating association and friends groups
  • Shoreline restoration
  • Maritime hammock restoration
  • Wildlife surveys and studies
  • Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Public Use Opportunities

  • Boat tours, kayaking, canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife observation
  • Photograph
  • Outreach/education

Refuge Needs

  • Land buffer from development
  • Annual funding
  • Permanent support staff
  • Visitor facilities

Management Projects

2015 Construction Project

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is planning a construction project in 2015 at its Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex for the purposes of enhancing resource management and protection. The project is to be located at Pelican Island NWR, 4055 Wildlife Way, Vero Beach, Florida.

The Pelican Island NWR construction project consists of two major components:

  • Extension of Wildlife Way to provide a shorter connection to Jungle Trail - upon completion of this connection, a substantial section of Wildlife Way will be reclaimed for wildlife habitat. Once reclaimed, the net gain in wildlife habitat would be approximately 0.66 acres.
  • Construction of a phased-use building along Wildlife Way – located about 200 yards from Highway A1A, the approximately 2,250 ft2 building would initially be used as a Visitor Contact Station with offices, after which it would be adapted to become a refugeresidence once the refuge acquires a Visitor Center in a separate location.

In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Service will conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate potential effects of each component. The EA is now available: Download the Environmental Assessment (PDF)

Read the Public Notice (PDF).

Shoreline Stabilization

Pelican Island has changed dramatically over the years. In the mid 1800's, it was lush with mangroves and populated with varieties of nesting birds. At the beginning of the 20th century, after several years of hard freezes and a build up of bird droppings (guano), the island became a barren sand spit. The island experienced a resurgence in the vegetation by the mid 1900's. By the end of the 20th century, however, the island once again began to die back, but this time the overall size of the island was also diminishing. From 1970 to 2000, Pelican Island lost 55% of its former size to erosion.

A shoreline restoration project has begun to stabilize the existing shoreline. This project involves placing tons of oyster shells around stressed mangroves and the eroded shoreline to act as a natural wavebreak. Behind the oyster reef, smooth cordgrass and red mangroves were planted to trap sediment and stabilize the soil with their roots. The aim is to reduce wave action on the island, stimulate natural processes of native plant recruitment and succession, thereby creating a stable environment for shoreline accretion. Another goal is to provide additional foraging habitat in the cordgrass flats and the oyster reef for wading birds and shorebirds. Eventually, mangroves will increase and provide additional nesting habitat for the birds.

This shoreline stabilization is made possible through a partnership with St. John's River Water Management District, Florida Inland Navigation District, the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lewis Environmental Services, and Florida Tech University.

Habitat Restoration

Habitat restoration is underway on the buffer lands acquired to protect the boundary of the refuge. These lands contain a high density of exotic plant species including Brazilian pepper, Australian pine and Orchid Island grapefruit trees. Brazilian pepper was introduced a century ago as an ornamental winter fruit-bearing tree. Australian pines were brought in to provide windbreaks for citrus groves and other farms. The Orchid Island citrus trees produced world-famous grapefruit for many years. But as market conditions worsened for the citrus farmers, these lands were put up for sale for development. Only a quarter mile from Pelican Island itself, these groves became highly important for acquisition to prevent encroaching development.

Habitat restoration begins with eradication and control of invasive exotics. Brazilian pepper and Australian pines are removed mechanically and the stumps treated chemically to prevent regrowth. In hard-to-reach areas trees are treated and left standing to decompose naturally over time. Citrus trees are either removed and burned or shredded in place. The restoration area is disked, mulched, and replanted with native plants to restore natural communities, including salt marsh, mangrove swamp, coastal dune lake, hydric hammock, mesic hammock and maritime hammock. The water table will be restored to historic levels and soils will be excavated to appropriate depths necessary to support both freshwater and estuarine plant communities. These habitats will be managed for the long-term benefit of a diversity of wildlife species.

The refuge includes two salt marsh impoundments, totaling about 300 acres, which are cooperatively managed for wading bird foraging habitat, mosquito control, and natural tidal exchange.

The habitat restoration on the Refuge will be made possible through a partnership with Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Indian River County and Lewis Environmental Services.

Last updated: June 17, 2015