Out Front: A Defenders Roundup
Refuges Before Rockets
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is home to more threatened and endangered species than any other refuge in the continental United States — but that is not stopping a proposal to allow a commercial rocket launch pad that would impact Florida manatees, Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises and more.
“Space Florida’s proposal to construct and operate a launch pad—and the facilities and road expansions that would come along with it—simply isn’t compatible with the purposes of this national wildlife refuge,” says Laurie Macdonald, Defenders’ Florida director. The project would expand roads, increase traffic and roadkill and install lighting that would be disruptive to nesting and hatchling sea turtles. Defenders is pushing for alternate sites at the Kennedy Space Center a couple of miles away. “Space flight can be inspiring, but first we should ensure that we are responsible stewards of the incredible biological diversity at home,” says Macdonald.
Some four years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew out in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still discovering devastating environmental effects of the 87-day uncontrolled release of oil and gas.
Scientists now estimate that 800,000 birds died in offshore and coastal waters—a significant increase from the 3,000 bird carcasses initially recovered. “Prevailing wind and currents moved bodies away or they disappeared before coming ashore because of controlled surface oil fires, ocean scavengers and decay,” says Chris Haney, Defenders’ chief scientist and co-author of the study, which relied on computer modeling to calculate the likelihood of these factors. “Common bottlenose dolphins in the spill zone also show steep health declines,” he says. “And fish fared no better, exhibiting genetic changes in their gills.” The spill also caused heart defects in larval fish, including the endangered bluefin tuna. “Accessing the full scope of harm from this unprecedented oil spill is a vital step to recovery,” says Haney. “Otherwise, we will not know how to best deploy our resources to restore the Gulf and to protect the endangered sea turtles and marine fish that make this sea their home.”