Since its establishment in 1990, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge has been a major success. The 20 miles of Florida coastline located within the Refuge boundary is home to the most important sea turtle nesting habitat in the United States. Ongoing surveys show that nesting by loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks has increased significantly in the past dozen years, with the annual number of nests now regularly exceeding 20,000.
The success of this protected area for sea turtles is especially welcome news considering the continued growth of single-family residences and businesses along the barrier island on which the Carr Refuge is located. Part of this success is no doubt a result of ongoing public education and outreach efforts by CCC and others aimed at making sure local residents and visitors know about the area’s importance to sea turtles and other wildlife. For over ten years, CCC has led efforts to increase awareness and support for the Carr Refuge by distributing educational materials, conducting guided sea turtle walks and giving presentations to local groups and schools. These efforts seem to have paid off, at least so far.
However, the long-term effectiveness of these educational programs would be limited without an educational facility or visitor center located within the Refuge itself. Fortunately, Brevard County, Florida, in which most of the Carr Refuge is located, has recognized this urgent need and has committed to building the Barrier Island Ecosystem Center (BIEC) on land currently occupied by an abandoned beachfront restaurant. Recognizing CCC’s unique capabilities and connection with the Archie Carr Refuge, the County has established a formal partnership that will allow CCC to design and operate the educational programs at the BIEC.
By contracting with CCC to run the BIEC education programs, the County will minimize its operational responsibility for the facility, while capitalizing on CCC’s expertise in running a natural resource education center. For over a decade, CCC has run its own Natural History Museum and Visitor Center in Tortuguero, Costa Rica—site of a similarly important sea turtle nesting beach that is located in a national park. The BIEC partnership will allow CCC to expand the reach and effectiveness of its educational activities in the Carr Refuge. In addition, CCC will operate the BIEC Gift Shop, which will generate the revenue necessary to sustain the ongoing education programs.
As the past decade has demonstrated in the Carr Refuge, people can live and play on important sea turtle nesting beaches without significantly affecting nesting success. But it requires a well informed public that is committed to behaving in a manner that doesn’t harm nesting turtles or their nests. As the human population on Brevard County’s south beaches continues to grow, CCC and the BIEC will play an increasingly important role in protecting the fragile barrier island and its globally important sea turtle nesting beaches.
Construction on the BIEC should begin before the end of 2003, and the facility will open to the public in early 2005. Once completed, the BIEC will provide a focal point for the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and the associated barrier island by providing exhibit space, a presentation hall, a small research library and ongoing educational programs that promote stewardship of the area’s fragile natural resources. The BIEC will host visiting school groups from throughout Brevard County, as well as local residents and tourists. The facility, its gift shop and its exhibits will also be open daily to the public.
The BIEC would not have been possible without the generous support of the Richard K. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation purchased the abandoned “Chuck’s Steakhouse” and donated the parcel to Brevard County for the purpose of building and operating an educational facility. The County also owns two adjacent parcels stretching across the narrow barrier island—from the Indian River Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity of these adjacent public lands will allow CCC and the County to provide visitors with a unique interpretive hiking trail that weaves through a cross section of all the barrier island habitats.
For the past several years, CCC worked closely with local residents, county commissioners and staff to secure the funding necessary to raze the old structure and build a new, state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly center. Brevard County has earmarked just over $2 million for the project, which will cover all the construction costs and the cost of building the educational exhibits. CCC has contributed to the effort by completing preliminary designs for the facility’s exhibits through a grant provided by the Florida Coastal Zone Management Program.
For the past 13 years, a coalition of public and private partners has worked to purchase undeveloped beachfront property within the proposed boundaries of the Archie Carr Refuge. The goal has been to buy as much of this vulnerable beachfront habitat as possible—before it is lost forever to development. Within the 20 miles of the refuge “boundary,” about 9 miles of beachfront is now in public ownership. The remainder of the area consists of a patchwork of single-family homes, small motels and isolated undeveloped lots. For the most part, the land acquisition phase has concluded, and a coalition of partners calling itself the “Archie Carr Working Group” is striving to safeguard this unique refuge for sea turtles and other coastal wildlife. Construction of the BIEC will fulfill one of the major goals of the Working Group by providing ongoing interpretive programs to both residents and visitors to the Refuge.