Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species.
The refuge's coastal location, tropic-like climate, and wide variety of habitat types contribute to the refuge's diverse bird population. To date, 358 species have been identified on the refuge.
The refuge manages habitat for over 500 species of wildlife. These habitats support one of the highest numbers of endangered and threatened species found within the National Wildlife Refuge system.
More than 140 species of freshwater and saltwater fish are known to use refuge impoundments, estuaries, and freshwater wetlands. Fish within the refuge are important to the ecology of the area and recreation.
The habits of the refuge include wetlands (both salt and fresh water), upland shrubland, wetland forest, mesic and upland forest, and beach and dune.
Exotic, invasive, and nuisance plant and animal species is one of the priority management issues for the Merritt Island NWR. Nuisance animal species have a negative impact on threatened and endangered species.
There are many species of mammals on the refuge. Some of the larger ones include bobcats, otters, manatees, and deer.
Adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of habitats and wetland ecosystems and can be found in many areas of the Refuge.
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Merritt Island NWR has one of three strong hold populations of the threatened Florida scrub-jay.