About the Refuge

About The Refuge with Credit Indian River By Air

WELCOME to America’s First National Wildlife Refuge

Near the Atlantic coastal community of Sebastian, Florida, lays a little island in the Indian River Lagoon, a dot on the map really but with a very large international footprint. This is Pelican Island, and its surrounding 5400+ acres of protected waters and lands, are known as the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.


With a history that symbolizes our nation’s dedication to her cherished lands, the Refuge holds the distinction of being our nation’s first national wildlife Refuge. The Refuge has provided a natural home for fish and wildlife, while proudly serving as the ambassador for the development of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Through the creation of 563 refuges throughout the nation since its designation in 1903, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge has stood as a testament to our nation’s commitment to the conservation of natural lands.

Learn more about Pelican Island's history

Pelican Island’s designation as a wildlife Refuge came about through the valiant efforts of many individuals, from a pioneer boat builder living on an ancient shell mound overlooking the island in the late 1800s, to a conservation minded President, to conservationists, sportsmen, and environmentally conscious citizens.

Pelican Island NWR Location Map

The Refuge is also designated as a National Historic Landmark, a Wetland of International Importance, and a candidate Marine Protected Area. Because of its status as the first federal area set aside specifically to protect wildlife, the Refuge was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 1963. Thirty years later in 1993, Pelican Island Refuge was recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as a Wetland of International Importance for its support of endangered species and large assemblages of migratory birds, as well as for its support of 10 Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge species at critical stages in their biological development. In 2000, the Refuge was listed as a candidate Marine Protected Area for its protection of estuarine waters.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge’s primary goals are:

  • Protect the historic rookery on Pelican Island.
  • Project, 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.