Concern after wildlife refuge 'showered with rocket parts'

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

As SpaceX reached towards space during a rocket attempt, back on Earth a social media post about its impact on wildlife research went viral.

After the unmanned Starship prototype rocket SN11 exploded on Tuesday, images began to circulate showing debris strewn across parts of south Texas.

While SpaceX’s John Insprucker called the fiery development “another exciting test”, many environmentalists were concerned that sensitive parts of the Lower Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge in Boca Chica and nearby lands managed by Texas state parks were impacted by rocket parts.

An wildlife researcher took to Twitter to vent as Texas residents began picking up rocket debris after a failed SpaceX test. Source: Twitter / Reuters
An wildlife researcher took to Twitter to vent as Texas residents began picking up rocket debris after a failed SpaceX test. Source: Twitter / Reuters

The area is known to be home to a number of rare plants and insects, including the Boca Chica flea beetle, whose only known range is 300 metres from the test site. Nearby beaches are home to sea turtles and a wide array of sea birds. 

Boca Chica had been characterised as a sleepy hamlet prior to being chosen as a rocket launch site for billionaire Elon Musk's rocket company. 

Social media outcry after wildlife refuge littered with rocket parts

With the delicate coastline showered in experimental rocket parts, a wildlife researcher who was driving out to begin his work was one of many who took to social media to vent their frustration.

“It’s fine SpaceX. I’ll just reschedule my field work until next year again because I can’t drive down a state highway or state beach,” he wrote on Twitter yesterday.

“It’s only public land and critical habitats you just showered with rocket parts.”

Wildlife advocates have expressed concern since SpaceX began launching rockets from Boca Chica. Source: Getty
Wildlife advocates have expressed concern since SpaceX began launching rockets from Boca Chica. Source: Getty

The post quickly garnered 70,000 likes, 15,000 retweets and a sea of comments.

“Is this the dune area at Boca Chica? Infuriating,” wrote one person.

“I used to ask grad students (about) how they would deal with catastrophic losses such as hurricanes, timber harvests and failure of -80 degree Centigrade freezes. I guess I’ll add rocket explosions to the list next time,” said another.

'Encouraged' to remove tweet says researcher

Following the online outcry, the wildlife researcher behind the tweet, who has asked not to be named, deleted his post. 

“I just wanted to state that the post while based on fact has placed me in an odd position and I was encouraged to remove it,” he wrote.

Debris could be seen littered across south Texas following the rocket's failure to land. Source: Reuters
Debris could be seen littered across south Texas following the rocket's failure to land. Source: Reuters

A local environment group, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, also expressed concern about what the New York Times called SpaceX's "fail-fast, fix-fast approach" to testing rockets.

"The result of this strategy is a series of explosions that rain down debris on the habitat," the group wrote on Facebook. 

"Most recently the explosion resulted in a large debris field on USFWS-managed state land."

While there have been no reports of injured wildlife, SpaceX’s location close to key habitat along the Gulf of Mexico remains controversial.

Following the failed rocket launch, the company’s founder Elon Musk promised to donate money to nearby towns for revitalisation.

SpaceX and US Fish and Wildlife Service have been contacted for comment.

- With Reuters

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