Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located due east of Titusville on Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida, and occupies 140,000 acres, with the Kennedy Space Center.
The refuge traces its beginnings to the development of the nation’s Space Program. In 1962, NASA acquired the 140,000 acres of land, water, and marshes adjacent to Cape Canaveral to establish the John F. Kennedy Space Center. NASA built a launch complex and other space-related facilities, but development of most of the area was not necessary. In1963 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed an agreement to establish the refuge and in 1975 a second agreement established Canaveral National Seashore. Today, the Department of Interior manages most of the unused portions of the Kennedy Space Center as a National Wildlife Refuge and National Seashore.
The refuge contains over 1000 species of plants, 117 species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds, and 31 mammal species, of which 21 species are listed as endangered by the state of Florida or by the US federal government. Until 1962, there had been little development in the area because of the high number of salt marsh mosquitoes. Public access is normally permitted, and several state highways run across the refuge. The refuge provides hiking and driving trails for visitors, with opportunities for observing wildlife without causing disturbances; most of the wildlife can be seen by a casual visitor. An observation deck is provided near the drawbridge that carries State Road 3 over the Haulover Canal, in the northern part of the refuge, since manatees frequently congregate there. Boating is permitted on the waters around and within the refuge, and provides an opportunity for observing the wildlife. There are facilities for launching pleasure boats at several places. (Source https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island)
On Wednesday before Thanksgiving we drove to Haulover Canal. This is the spot where the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) crosses from the Atlantic Ocean into the Indian River. We launched our kayaks at the boat launch near the drawbridge on State Road 3. The boat launch basin had pods of manatee and dolphins. They were all over the place! After we spent quite awhile watching and taking pictures of them we started to paddle towards Mosquito Lagoon.
The tide was coming in and we paddled against its strong current. We saw several boats transiting the canal as a part of the ICW, it was fun to imagine living fulltime on one of these boats instead of our RV.
There were birds everywhere. We paddled right under some osprey resting in the trees above the canal. We saw blue heron fly from the shore and rest up in the trees. We had never seen them rest in trees like that as they are more of a wading bird. At the mouth of the canal we saw a flock of pelicans diving for fish. They are comical to watch. They fly gracefully above the water then dive in what looks like a controlled crash into the water.
After a short stop on the canal bank for a quick snack we headed back to the boat launch. It was definitely a faster and easier trip back with the rising tide pushing us. Back in the boat launch basin the manatee and dolphins were waiting for us. While we were being careful and trying to stay away from the sleeping manatee, once in awhile one would swim right up to us and dive under our kayaks, just a little thrill.
It was a long drive from the campground to the Wildlife Refuge, but worth every mile of it. It’s almost ironic that this wildlife refuge is a result of the development of the Kennedy Space Center. Space Age technology is supporting the preservation of nature and protecting the environment.