Merritt Island Refuge

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Public Use and Recreation


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR)  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.

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.

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 Florida's Atlantic coast. This lack of development makes this beach prime for sea turtle nesting.



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This site was last updated 03/29/06