Merritt Island was originally an island and is still referred to as one. Because of the construction of the Crawlerway for the NASA Space Shuttle to move to the launch pad over the Banana Creek in the north, it has been connected to a mainland peninsula. To the west and south it is separated by the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The east side of Merritt Island splits and is divided by Syke's Creek and New Found Harbour. They, in turn, are separated by the Banana River Lagoon from Cocoa Beach, Florida.
To the north, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, along with a narrow barrier island that make up Canaveral National Seashore, are an unpopulated protected buffer area for the space shuttle launching site of Kennedy Space Center. The area is a wildlife magnet drawing huge sums of migratory birds and more resident wildlife including, alligators, manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, bald eagles, ospreys, bobcats, and the rumor of the elusive Florida panther.
To its south and east, the Island is linked by the Merritt Island Causeway and the NASA Causeway to the beaches of the barrier island that run from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station opposite the southside of the Kennedy Space Center, past the cruise ship docks at Port Canaveral onward to Cocoa Beach, Florida and Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. To the west, the island connects to mainland Brevard County by the Max A. Brewer Causeway to Titusville, Florida and by the Emory L. Bennett Causeway and Merritt Island Causeway to Cocoa, Florida, and Pineda Causeway, just north of Melbourne, Florida.
Merritt Island's recent history dates back into the mid-1800s and centers around the growth of citrus, stressing the cultivation of pineapples and oranges. The famous Indian River oranges and grapefruits come from this sandy area. The Island became a huge draw in the 1950s and '60s as the Space Race took off and NASA expanded. The construction of a barge canal to the Intracoastal Waterway from the Atlantic Ocean cut off the northern half of the Island for many years and to this day remains slightly rural with cattle pastures still holding on to some land. Now though a 4-lane highway connects to the Space Center, moving workers rapidly from the more densly populated central and southern sections of the Island. The small towns of Merritt Island vanished with the coming of the Space Age, towns like Georgiana, Courtney, Tropic, Fairyland, Orsino, Angel City, Wilson and Indianola now only live on in the names of streets and historic churches. The area now belongs to no official city, however the central part of Merritt Island is home to the majority of the population and includes the local high school, library, and shopping district.