Space and Nature – An Unlikely But Harmonious Marriage

During the public comment period for the Spaceport Camden Draft EIS, the FAA heard from a variety of environmental groups that Spaceport Camden would degrade the value of Cumberland Island National Seashore and the wilderness area.  To help put these claims into perspective, it is informative to consider the proposed Spaceport Camden in light of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island.

Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport has two national wildlife refuges, a national seashore, and extensive land holdings owned and preserved by the Nature Conservancy as part of the Virginia Coastal Reserve. Wallops Island is acclaimed as the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

KSC is historically one of the busiest and most famous spaceports in the world, and bears a close resemblance to the environmental setting at Spaceport Camden. KSC is located on a barrier island which includes the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and is adjacent to the Canaveral National Seashore. According to the Merritt Island Wildlife Association, “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.  Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species.” These species include the endangered gopher tortoise, the West Indian manatee, the Eastern indigo snake.

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A number of threatened and endangered sea turtles, such as the Green turtle, Leatherback turtle, and the Loggerhead turtle, are known to frequent the areaaround KSC. These “visitors” flock to the shores of both Merritt Island and Canaveral National Seashore to lay their eggs. According to Jane Provancha, a wildlife ecologist, more than 5,000 sea turtles nest every year on the protected beaches in the vicinity of KSC.

KSC has worked closely with environmental organizations and other government agencies to minimize disturbance to its most famous annual visitors as they nest. This includes extensive efforts to adhere to environmentally responsible lighting, and striving to minimizing light pollution as much as possible.  Similarly, Spaceport Camden is committed to learning from NASA’s best practices for nighttime lighting and is already working with environmental groups and federal and state agencies to ensure our lighting plan will meet or exceed the practices implemented at KSC.

Within Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, there are more than 300 bird species, a number of which are federally protected, including the Wood stork and the Bald Eagle, our national bird. Bald Eagles have been nesting on Merritt Island near Kennedy Space Center for more than four decades, averaging more than a dozen different nests per year, and often making for interesting photo opportunities.

Spaceport Camden is coordinating with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources to ensure that the appropriate protections are in place for special status species.  Spaceport Camden is striving for harmonious balance between advancing Georgia’s stake in the next space race and protecting our precious wildlife and coastal beauty.

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Spaceport Camden is coordinating with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources to ensure that the appropriate protections are in place for special status species.  Spaceport Camden is striving for harmonious balance between advancing Georgia’s stake in the next space race and protecting our precious wildlife and coastal beauty.

As evidenced by the success of the protected species in the vicinity of KSC, this balance is achievable and sustainable.  KSC and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge have more federally protected species than any other preserve in the continental United States, and these species continue to thrive next to one of the busiest launch facilities in the world.

“Even though it is a very unusual marriage between technology and nature, the marriage has lasted more than 40 years,” explains Merritt Island Ranger Dorn Whitmore. “And one of the species that really benefits is the bald eagle.” The United States Fish and Wildlife Service strikes a similar tone in their brochure for Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, stating that, “the unique relationship the refuge shares with NASA is testimony that nature and technology can coexist and thrive.”

 

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