Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket explosion rained debris down on ‘pristine’ wildlife refuge

Debris, as well as fires caused by a rocket crash, could pose risks to wildlife, environmentalist says

Vishwam Sankaran
Friday 21 April 2023 10:52 BST

Related video: Giant SpaceX rocket explodes after launch, still hailed as success

Just seconds after Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the first test flight of its biggest and most powerful rocket yet, the craft started tumbling uncontrollably and exploded, leaving a dramatic cloud in the sky.

The failed rocket launch shrouded cars and homes miles away in a layer of dust.

“Getting reports from multiple people now of ‘particulates’ raining down in areas of Port Isabel after the nearby explosion of the SpaceX rocket stack Starship/Superheavy,” NPR reporter Pablo de la Rosa tweeted.

The city of Port Isabel said the dust was sand and soil from near the Space X launch site “lofted into the air by the force of lift-off.”

An elementary school official in Port Isabel tweeted images of ash-covered cars in the city.

And commenting on photos of the particulate fallout, a local resident pointed out the SpaceX’s launch facility was built in a migratory bird nesting area.

Austin-based journalist Christopher Hooks tweeted that the SpaceX launch site is in the middle of a “one-of-its-kind preserve for migratory sea birds, some of which travel thousands of miles to lay eggs there.”

The region is home to some “the state’s most pristine shorebird habitat”, according to Audubon Texas.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has continously warned that SpaceX’s testing in the Boca Chica, Texas area could harm endangered birds in the region.

“From our point of view, it’s good news it didn’t blow up at the pad site, but future launches could,” ABC Michael Parr told the Washington Post.

He warned on Friday that the sounds, debris and fires caused by a rocket crash could all pose risks to wildlife in the area.

In a statement, published last week, ABC said it was “deeply concerned” about the SpaceX facility’s impacts on wildlife habitat and the species that rely on it, “including species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) such as the federally Threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot, and the Endangered Northern Aplomado Falcon.”

“We’d like to see it all succeed,” Mr Parr said, adding, however, that he wished the launches did not happen next to an important wetland.

Texas Public Radio also reported just two days before the latest launch that the Elon Musk space company’s presence is damaging to birds’ nesting habitats.

Algal flats on top of the wetlands surrounding Boca Chica Beach are an important food source for some shorebirds.

Citing conservation biologist Justin LeClaire, the report noted that some debris from a recent SpaceX rocket fire test are still there.

Last year the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) noted in a 183-page document that SpaceX needed to comply with over 75 mitigation measures ahead of the Starship rocket launch program.

The FAA’s environmental assessment requested changes from the company such as limiting its noise levels and hiring biologists to assess impacts on local wildlife.

Last week the FAA okayed SpaceX’s test flights saying the company had met all requirements, including safety and environmental.

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