The Abundance of Florida’s Space Coast
By: Kyle Grammatica
Florida’s Space Coast has an abundance of parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges to explore!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
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. The refuge consists of 140,000 acres covering a variety of habitats including coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. The refuge is home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals. The refuge’s coastal location, tropic-like climate, and wide variety of habitats contribute to the diverse population of birds. The refuge is truly a birders paradise, with over 358 species of birds identified there. River otters, manatees, and alligators also call it home, and keen-eyed visitors may catch a glimpse of the ever-stealthy bobcats.
The visitor information center hosts exhibits and movies for guest viewing and provides access to trails. There are several hiking loops around the refuge ranging in length from a quarter of a mile to five miles. If you don’t feel like walking the trails, try out the Black Point Wildlife Drive. It’s a seven-mile, one-way drive around shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods. The wildlife drive provides an excellent opportunity to see waterfowl, wading birds, alligators, snakes, and other species. Guests may also fish, crab, clam, oyster, and shrimp around the refuge as long as they posses a current Refuge Sports Fishing Permit. The permit is self-issuing and assures you have read and understand Merritt Islands NWR’s fishing regulations. Waterfowl hunting is also permitted in a portion of the refuge, and there are archery-only big game hunts two times a season.
Indian River Lagoon
If you’re wanting to get off your feet and into the water, take a trip to the Indian River Lagoon! The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) occupies more than 30 percent of Florida’s east coast and is the most biologically diverse estuary in North America. It is a grouping of three lagoons: Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and the IRL. The IRL stretches more than 150 miles north to south and provides incredible recreational opportunities. Fishing and boating are especially popular activities.
Perhaps one of the most incredible features of the IRL can be seen in the summer when bioluminescent algae light up the waters, one of only a few places in the world. One of the most popular ways to experience the blue glow of the bioluminescent algae is by taking a kayak tour. Skimming atop the water creating glowing waves with your oars is a truly breathtaking experience you won’t soon forget!
We hope you get the opportunity to explore Florida’s Space Coast soon, as parks, preserves, and beaches begin reopening!