U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says SpaceX Starbase activities potential impacts can be mitigated with basic measures –including use of Starlink to monitor animals 24/7

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says SpaceX Starbase activities potential impacts can be mitigated with basic measures –including use of Starlink to monitor animals 24/7

Featured Image Source: Journalist Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter

"Becoming multiplanetary is essential to extending dramatically the probable lifespan of civilization and all the forms of life on Earth," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in February. He hopes that humans can create a sustainable city on the Red Planet before the year 2050. SpaceX's "goal overall has been to make life multi-planetary and enable humanity to become a spacefaring civilization,” says Musk. “And the next really big thing is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and bring the animals and creatures of Earth there. Sort of like a futuristic Noah’s ark. We’ll bring more than two, though – it’s a little weird if there’s only two,” he said in December 2021. Read more: SpaceX Founder Elon Musk Envisions Using Starship As A ‘Futuristic Noah’s Ark’ That Will Expand Life To Mars

SpaceX is developing a fully-reusable Starship launch vehicle at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica Beach, located at the southernmost tip of Texas along the border of Mexico. The sandy region is home to a protected U.S. National Wildlife Refuge that neighbors the launch pad.

SpaceX is currently pending approval to perform Starship's first orbital flight test due to an ongoing environmental assessment performed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); the U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); and the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The review is meant to ensure safe spaceflight operations and assess potential environmental impacts to the area. The agencies started to conduct the assessment around 11 months ago and are scheduled to complete it by May 31st, after four delays. See the FAA Environmental Assessment Timeline. 

USFWS submitted a 141-page Biological and Conference Opinion (BCO) report to the FAA on May 12, it details SpaceX’s potential impacts at Boca Chica Beach and what the company can do to help minimize the impact of its activities on wildlife. USFWS concluded that SpaceX Starbase operations potential effects on wildlife can be mitigated with basic measures –including use of Starlink to monitor animals 24/7 with solar powered equipment.

"[...] We have determined that the level of anticipated take is not likely to result in jeopardy to the ocelot, jaguarundi, northern aplomado falcon, piping plover, red knot, Kemp's ridley, green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. Although we anticipate some incidental take to occur, the implementation of the conservation measures proposed should ultimately result in avoidance and minimization of adverse effects," wrote USFWS in the document.

"As part of the project description, the FAA/SpaceX has agreed on voluntarily measures to avoid and minimize impacts to the ocelot, jaguarundi, northern aplomado falcon, piping plover, red knot and sea turtles," the document states. There's only seven species of sea turtles in the world and the Boca Chica Beach/South Padre Island region is home to five species: green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley. 

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document to FAA.  

USFWS said that SpaceX “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species listed above. The action area encompasses a relative small portion of the rangewide habitat of each of the species addressed in this opinion and small portion of each species’ population," they wrote. 

Local residents have seen a four-wheeler with a decorative turtle that features a SpaceX "X" logo on its back; they speculate that the vehicle is used by the company to find and monitor sea turtle nests along the beach, pictured below. According to the document, one of SpaceX's requirements will be to inspect the areas near the launch pad during sea turtle nesting season from March 15 to October 1 between 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m CDT. SpaceX employees have previously volunteered during winter to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles in the Boca Chica/South Padre Island region. The company plans to continue working with Sea Turtle Inc. (local conservation organization) to help protect the beloved reptiles. Read more: SpaceX Provides Power Generator to Save Cold-stunned Sea Turtles in South Texas

The document reveals that SpaceX Starbase plans to use the Starlink broadband satellite internet service to assist with conservation efforts at Boca Chica Beach. "To minimize potential impacts to listed species and critical habitat units, SpaceX will implement Terms and Conditions outlined in the BCO and the attached associated plans. SpaceX agrees to continue to work with the Service [USFWS and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department] to select appropriate native plant species to revegetate temporarily disturbed areas,” said the agency. “SpaceX will reduce impacts to vegetated wetlands and wind tidal flats, include locating the parking area predominantly in uplands and locating installing, and siting payload and processing facilities away from wetlands.” SpaceX's "solar powered Starlink system to provide 24/7 video coverage of northern aplomado falcons and their habitats. Starlink video would help understand predators, habitat, diet and ways to promote and protect the aplomado falcons. These efforts are outlined in the Terms and Conditions of this BCO," wrote USFWS representatives in the BCO document. 

The USFWS BCO draft document has elaborate recommendations and requirements for SpaceX operations at Starbase. Federal wildlife experts recommended SpaceX to help protect wildlife and the ecosystem by collaborating with professional biologists to monitor animals and vegetation, as well as provide annual monetary donations to local environmental organizations to assist with conservation efforts. It also recommends the company to organize beach clean-ups and reduce traffic by operating an employee shuttle between Starbase and the city of Brownsville, as well as reduce the amount of lights to minimize the impact on sea turtles nesting at the beach at night. "SpaceX security patrol vehicles or other necessary SpaceX equipment on the beach will be driven above the 'wet line' to minimize disturbance of birds and protect feeding and roosting areas and at a speed of 10-15 mph while on the beach," says USFWS. It also recommends SpaceX employees to drive down State Highway 4 at reduced velocity at night to avoid disturbing ocelots crossing the single road. The 141-page BCO document was first-obtained/uploaded by CNBC in full as a PDF via SCRIBD, embedded below. 


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Se...


Featured Image Source: Journalist Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter

Author's Note: THANKS FOR READING TESMANIAN! We appreciate your support! ♡ 

About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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