Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pelican Island holds a unique place in American history, because on March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the Nation's first National Wildlife Refuge to protect brown pelicans and other native birds nesting on the island. This was the first time the federal government set aside land for the sake of wildlife. The Refuge celebrates its Centennial Anniversary in 2003 and now the refuge system consists of more than 530 refuges on nearly 95 million acres of the nation's most important wildlife habitats.
Pelican Island can be viewed by boat. There are several public boat ramps to access the refuge waters by personal watercraft. Access to the island itself is restricted to outside of the posted closed area signs around the island. Boating is permitted elsewhere in the open water areas of the refuge within the Indian River Lagoon. Boaters are cautioned to observe posted manatee slow speed zones in the Refuge.
There are plenty of local boat, kayak and canoe tour vendors that offer rentals or daily trips to view Pelican Island. Reservations are strongly suggested, as times and availability may vary due to seasonal demand and weather. The tours are guided and offer educational opportunities about Pelican Island and the Indian River Lagoon. Viewing the island by boat offers excellent, up-close bird watching and photography opportunities.
There are many boat ramps for access to the waters around the refuge. In Sebastian, The Main Street ramp is between Indian River Drive and Main Street is good for medium and large boats but parking in the area is poor on weekends. Another option is the Sebastian Yacht Club this ramp is best for medium and large boats and the parking is generally good. The Sebastian River's Sand Point Marina is located just north of the Sebastian River Bridge off US 1 and is good for small or medium boats. At Dale Wimbrow Park on Roseland Road, boaters can access the South Fork of the Sebastian River. This launch is ideal for small and medium boats. At the Sebastian Inlet State Park there is access for medium and large boats.
Pelican Island proper is a historic and significant bird rookery island, providing nesting habitat for over 16 different species of colonial water birds. Over 30 species of water birds use the island during the winter migratory season. Over 130 species of birds are found throughout the entire refuge.
Commonly viewed bird species include pelicans, herons, egrets, ibis and osprey. The Pelican Island rookery provides critical nesting habitat for the endangered wood stork.
Mainland trails and viewing platforms allow visitors to view the Pelican Island rookery from land and without the use of a boat and explore other areas of the national wildlife refuge.
Fishing is permitted in the open water areas of the Refuge. There are good fishing opportunities for redfish, snook, sea trout, mangrove snapper, and other popular sport fish. State fishing regulations apply within the Refuge. Fishermen can recycle or discard their used monofilament fishing lines at area boat ramps. Fishermen are encouraged to use biodegradable cotton braided fishing line where available.
Recreational shellfish harvesting is permitted in the Refuge, but outside of the designated commercial shellfish leases. Raking for shellfish is not permitted in the refuge.
A Boater's Guide to the Indian River Lagoon, available at the refuge website, contains information on boating regulations, recreational saltwater fishing regulations and license fees, crab-shrimp-shellfish regulations and much more.
You may fish at this park from either boat or bank when done in accordance with current Florida state fishing and refuge regulations and in compliance with refuge special designation areas.
The refuge has several walking and hiking trails including:
Boardwalk The boardwalk features engraved planks of all the 540 national wildlife refuges established up to March 14, 2003. The planks are engraved with each refuge name, its state or territory, and establishment year. The boardwalk is universally accessible. The 1/4 mile boardwalk culminates to an 18 ft high observation tower. The tower affords the public the best view of Pelican Island and the Indian River Lagoon from land.
Foot Trails There are two 3-mile salt marsh foot trails including a new wildlife observation deck into the salt marsh; informational kiosks and educational signs along the trails.
The boardwalk and trails are located west of Highway A1A on the north end of Historic Jungle Trail. The parking lot areas and restrooms are managed and maintained by Indian River County, Parks and Recreation Department.
Manatees and juvenile sea turtles are commonly found foraging in the wetlands. Refuge forests support populations of wood rats, cotton mice, short-tailed shrews, bobcats, opossums, raccoons, gray squirrels, spotted skunks, great-horned owls and migratory songbirds.
The Pelican Island Preservation Society, Inc. is an environmental education organization with the following goals:
1) To heighten awareness of Pelican Island and the more than 500 national wildlife refuges 2) To present six public environmental educational meetings per year 3) To promote national recognition for the natural heritage of the Sebastian area 4) To sponsor an annual event celebrating the anniversary of Pelican Island(772) 562-3909
The refuge entrance is located on the west side of Hwy A1A, 3.7 miles north of CR 510 and 2.8 miles south of Sebastian Inlet.
From I-95, take Exit 156 towards Sebastian via CR 512 to US 1. There are opportunities to view the historic island's bird life on guided boat tours through local tour operators or kayak. There are 2 local tour operators off US 1, and one located in Sebastian Inlet State Park off of A1A.