In the late 1800's Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant, was living on the banks of the Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. His property looked out on a four acre mangrove island that was a rookery for thousands of brown pelicans and other waterfowl. Kroegel respected the wildlife and put his life on the line protecting the island, gun in hand, from hunters. In 1901 the American Ornithologist's Union and the Florida Audubon Society pushed the state of Florida to pass legislation protecting non-game birds in Florida. Kroegel was one of four men hired by the Florida Audubon as a game warden responsible for protecting the birds. After two of the other game wardens were murdered in the line of duty, naturalist Frank Chapman and William Dutcher approached president Theodore Roosevelt to try and get help from the federal government. In March of 1903 President Roosevelt signed an executive order to set aside Pelican Island as the first federal bird reservation. Kroegel was hired on as the first national wildlife refuge manager. Roosevelt went on to establish 55 bird reservations and national game preserves which eventually became the National Wildlife Refuge System.
In the 1920's the pelicans abandon Pelican Island after a hurricane tore through the island and they did not return for several years. In the 1960's the refuge was threatened by proposed land development around the island but concerned residents pushed the Florida legislature to include 422 acres of surrounding mangrove islands as a part of the refuge.In 1968 the refuge was expanded to include another 4760 acres of surrounding wetland habitat. Pelican Island itself began to shrink over time, due to erosion, and went from 5.5 acres when it was found to a little over an acre in early 2000's. In 2001 a group of organizations partnered together to expand the shoreline using oyster shells as a wavebreak. Today thousands of people visit the refuge each year. When we visited it was not peak time so we did not see the huge numbers of waterfowl that nest in the refuge. We did still manage to find a few birds to photograph as well as some spiders, dragonflies, butterflies, a tortoise and a land crab.