Manatee and calf, © Doug Perrine/USFWS

Putting Refuges Before Rockets at Merritt Island

When it was my chance to speak for Defenders at a public hearing attended by over 400 people in New Smyrna Beach, I posed a question: Why would we permit a space launch pad for commercial use in the middle of a national wildlife refuge that provides habitat for more endangered and threatened species than any other refuge in the continental United States?  That’s just what Space Florida, an agency that promotes private space program enterprise, wants to do at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  It just doesn’t make sense, especially when there are alternate sites at the Kennedy Space Center a couple miles away.  I was pleased to hear that the crowd agreed with us. We can support a commercial spaceport and the opportunities it offers, but keep the refuge as a safe haven for the wildlife it was established to protect.

Gopher tortoise, © NASA

Gopher tortoise

Space Florida’s proposal for construction and operation of a launch pad, and the facilities and road expansions that would come along with it, simply aren’t compatible with the purposes of the refuge.  Nor with the many ecological and economic benefits that the refuge and the adjacent Cape Canaveral National Seashore and National Park Service historic sites provide to the region.

The Refuge manages habitat for more than 1,500 species of wildlife, including 16 listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Among those that could be adversely impacted by a new space port facility are the Florida scrub jay, piping plover, sea turtles, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise and Florida manatee, as well as the diverse shorebird populations and our national symbol the bald eagle.  The impacts of the facility would go well beyond its footprint and disrupt refuge management. For example, the facility would force the FWS to restrict the prescribed burning program, which benefits fire-dependent species. The project would expand roads and increase traffic, which would increase incidents of roadkill. The new facility would also produce lighting that often disrupts nesting and hatchling sea turtles.  More than one million people visit the refuge each year, experiencing not only Merritt Island but also patronizing the many services and amenities throughout the local area.  A new facility would also impact how visitors use the area; the frequency of launches would mean far fewer days each year that the waters and lands at and around the refuge would be accessible to the public. Given all of these factors, combined with the fact that NASA has other suitable property available nearby, Space Florida’s request for the refuge acreage is especially disturbing.

Speaking for Defenders at the public hearing, I urged the agencies not to expend local, state and federal funds on a long and controversial struggle over the project.  The public would be far better served by directing Space Florida to work with NASA on an alternate site for this venture and on assuring the priceless values of the refuge remain intact. I confess, I’m a huge Star Trek fan who aspires to take a space flight someday.  However, while space flight can be inspiring, we should first ensure that we are responsible stewards of the incredible biological diversity at home. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how the decision to allow this facility moves forward.

Laurie Macdonald, Florida Program Director

50 Responses to “Putting Refuges Before Rockets at Merritt Island”

  1. P. Dyer

    Good work, Laurie! Thanks for speaking up for all of us who don’t want to see the refuge ruined by this project. But sorry to hear about your huge love for Star Trek (nobody’s perfect!) HAAA!!!

  2. Estelle

    The NASA launch pad & site is more than big enough to share! No space / launch site expansion!

  3. Estelle

    The NASA site & launch pad are more than big enough to share! Get more value out of the NASA site rather than building more launch pad sites! Leave the Merritt Island National Refuge serve its purpose in preserving nature!

  4. Barbara Bradley

    How can you possibly think this is a good idea? Is it your intention to get rid of every animal on the planet. Greed, simple greed, and for what?
    Shame on you.

  5. dana zotter

    Find the space some where else a refuge is just that, a refuge!

  6. Rick Traum

    Your message was well said. This would be a tragedy for the environment, and for future generations should a space launch pad installation be allowed to proceed. This would be pollution on a grand scale.

  7. dana zotter

    Find the space somewhere else maybe on top of a Walmart!

  8. Richard Bahr

    What is the point of going to space if there is no life on earth to come back to? All species must be taken into account when venture of this magnitude are considered, not just the human species or worse, convenience. We must stop the wholesale destruction of our already crippled Gulf habitat. Please, use your intelligence to devise a low impact plan that will serve man and nature.

  9. Linda Mullaney

    A launch pad should not be built in Merritt Island NWR as long as there are other viable spots for construction. Perhaps Space Florida should look up the definition of the word “refuge.” I don’t think they know what it means. Wasn’t killing off the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow enough of a tragedy for one place?

  10. Dorian Atchison

    “NASA has other suitable property available nearby”.. Come on! Let’s do this right for everyone concerned- don’t build in the space set aside to preserve nature! There are alternatives! Go there! I was born in Rockledge, when my father was working as a part of the team programming the first flight simulators- so I have my feet in both corners- I love Space too, but Come on! Build the darn thing where it won’t interfere with our beloved Nature!

  11. Robert L Bowley

    For crap sake put that damn launch pad someplace other than Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Could anything be more assinne?

  12. Lynn Mehaffey

    A wildlife refuge should be just that. No major developments or launch pads. DO NOT DISTURB THE WILDLIFE.

  13. Beverlee Patterson

    What is wrong with the people who think this is okay. We are quickly sending our world into oblivion with this thinking. I am very afraid for this country.

  14. Janet Broughton

    There is no excuse for destroying the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Space Florida should use the NASA property available to them. Protect “a national wildlife refuge that provides habitat for more endangered and threatened species than any other refuge in the continental United States.”

  15. Susan Cline

    Thank heavens for your report and organization. I live down the coast in Palm Beach County and had not yet heard of this travesty!! Florida’s environmentalists and citizens do not want this to be allowed!! It should naturally be at the cape if at all. Florida’s native wildlife and environment must not be sacrificed!Thank you and keep us advised please.

  16. Melissa

    I agree, Laurie! While Floridians want to be supportive of industry that benefit the local and state economies, we can not do so while simultaneously risking the lives and well being of our state’s precious species, especially those that are endangered.

  17. Sue Thomson

    Thank you for your work on behalf of our precious wildlife.

  18. Rev. Leta Rosetree

    We will have a no – life planet if desecration of environment continues. as supposed protectors of our planet, we need to STOP BREEDING so the rest of the planet can LIVE. Only China has seemed to grasp the full implications of what we are doing. … Let’s pay attention, people: we are shitting in our nest, and it’s killing ALL of us.

  19. sharky

    NO way build our launch-pads somewhere else!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. janery

    A refuge must be respected as a refuge, and not spoiled by business. Makes no sense. Would be so nice if our government acted to protect the many and our environmental safety, rather than catering to the wealthy, looking to become even wealthier, at the expense of us all and our health and well being. The everflowing unending amounts of business money heading to the pockets of our lawmakers is having a devestating impact on our environment, wildlife, and all of our health. We must all pay attention and make some noise.

  21. Burdel Horner

    Keep up the good fight! We all have to be nature’s voice!

  22. Linda Moore

    I agree with the 400! What sense does this make? Putting our environment and wildlife FIRST is the ONLY thing that makes sense. All else can be worked out.

  23. Bob

    This is one of my favorite places. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling and there is no place that compares. The birds that live in and use this refuge as a migration stopover are magnificent and astounding in their number and variety. It is hard to fathom that anyone would want to disturb it.

  24. Rose marie branson

    Thanks for fighting for the refuge. Let them re-use Kennedy Space Centre, since for all intents and purposes, the space program in the U.S. has been put on the shelf. Like you I’m a Star Trek fan. I’m sure Kirk, Picard and Spock would have also have applauded your efforts. Remember how they saved the whales from the likes of a SeaWorld operation? That’s one of the reasons why Star Trek was so influential, because of it’s respect for all living creatures/cultures. We can’t stop the future, but the show made us think about moral choices and consequences…just in a different way.

  25. Charles Wright

    Cape Canaveral is the only launch site NASA uses for launches. What most people want to know is: how much carbon monoxide is released into the air following an explosion at lift-off?

  26. Adrienne

    Please keep up the great work. I’m sure there are other locations for the launch pad. Thank you for protecting our animals.

  27. Karin whorton

    Use the nasa pad. Why build another? In case this situation isn’t clear to the people of this country, we are causing the demise of this planet. We are so selfish. We share this place. The greed and money makers can go around boasting “I got mine”, but at what price? It is safe to say the animals, plants, people are not on their list. It saddens me that we don’t get the priorities right. We will all pay for these mistakes.

  28. Karin whorton

    Use the nasa pad. Use what we already have. Greed and money are the demise of the planet that we are to share. The “I got mine” attitude needs to change and we need to protect what we have. The life on this planet. Quit being wasteful and less extravagant.

  29. Sherry

    What a ludicrous idea. It would appear that NASA (looking for life elsewhere) isn’t particularly concerned about the species here that only use certain lands to begin with.

    No way should anything–and I mean anything–change Merritt Island. Absolutely NO WAY.

    Can’t we humans ever leave anything alone???

  30. Sylvie from Calabasas,CA

    Thank you for speaking for us and the animals. Please let us know how we can petition with you to save this refuge from the corporations of the world. I too love space exploration put not at the cost of our animal friends and planet.

  31. Sue

    Why would they build a launch pad in the refuge when NASA does not use the one at Cape Canaveral…..did we not shut down our national space program a few years ago? What person proposed this assinine idea anyways?

  32. Anita L Collins

    Thank You Laurie!
    Our earth and the wildlife on it is as important as space exploration~
    And Not building in a designated refuge
    Is more important~
    Why can’t Space Florida lease the pad and surrounding facilities for their flights from NASA. Our tax dollars paid for NASA and abandoning all those facilities
    Is wasteful. If Space exploration had not been put on hold those facilities would still be in use~
    So Use Them Space Florida~
    Leave our Merritt Island Refuge Alone~

  33. Nancy Anderson

    My grandchildren deserve to see, admire, and love the same animal treasures that their father and their grandmother (me) did.

  34. Gayle

    How insane to even consider putting a launch pad in a wildlife refuge. Idiots!

  35. Philip Ratcliff

    No offense to Southerners reading this, but the South reminds me of a Third World country sometimes. Allowing a private company to build a big facility in a national wildlife refuge can only occur when corruption is involved. Southern politicians are more corrupt.

  36. dennis

    this is the stupidest idea i ever heard. one more in a long line of ignorant proposals that show our lack of interest in protecting what is left of nature in this overdeveloped country.

  37. Paula Simank Linder

    Use the NASA Pad, government cut the space program so they do not need to find an alternate location.

    Please wake up and realize some of these creatures will never be seen by our great grandchildren. What a waste of life and of God’s amazing creatures.

    DONT DO THIS, I beg of you.
    Paula from Dallas, Texas

  38. Mike Augustine

    The real launch pad is the earth and the creatures it supports (humans included). Manage it wisely. Nuff said?

  39. Matt Culpepper

    What’s wrong with Launch Pads 39A and 39B? We all know the Shuttles no longer need them.

  40. Rebecca Barrymore

    Just plain stupid human ideas without consideration of the BIG picture and with no reasoning that even makes sense. I’m sure it was a man who made this dumb decision and we should all speak against this insane and ridiculous plan. Put it on the Big Box store just like someone mentioned above. Let Corporate America do it on their land.

  41. Marilyn

    Well said, Laurie. Let’s hope they make the right decision. Too bad so many see so little!

  42. L Lola

    Duh…why not stay home, stay out of space – or at least don’t go further into it. There is so much on this planet to be sorted out…we humans have no business “out there” until we have it “right” here. Thank you for your action.

  43. Bette Jane

    Thank you, Laurie. Actions such as yours and the story about the Florida panther being released back into the wild, after her injuries had been treated and healed, remind me of why I continue to support Defenders of Wildlife. Too often precious wildlife and habitat, ultimately also OUR habitat are hastily discounted in the name of research, progress, enterprise, commerce, money and power. True progress is in our being good stewards of this earth, protecting its precious resources and wildlife. Thank you, again!

  44. Christopher Carr

    Science is not in charge yet as is obvious with this proposal. Every spiecies on this Island planet can teach us how to coexhist in the Multiverse, we loose one and we loose that chance to learn. We are not yet self aware. LEARN the simplest things are the hardest to do

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