New details have emerged about the environmental impact of the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy launch on 20 April. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has confirmed that a fire broke out on a 3.5-acre site south of the launch pad in Boca Chica State Park following the launch. The agency did not find any dead birds or other wildlife on National Wildlife Refuge lands, which are near the launch pad and are critical bird habitat. However, numerous objects were hurled thousands of feet from the site, and a cloud of pulverised concrete deposited material up to 6.5 miles away. The FWS confirmed that it had identified no debris on refuge-owned lands, but documented around 385 acres of debris on both SpaceX’s facility and Boca Chica State Park, which is leased and managed by the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Cameron County closed Boca Chica Beach and State Highway 4 for 48 hours following the launch due to launch pad safety concerns. The road closures prevented FWS staff from accessing refuge lands until the morning of 22 April.
A delay of 24 to 48 hours is typical following a launch “anomaly” such as the explosion, according to the FWS. However, such a delay can impede biologists’ ability to conduct a thorough investigation. Senior attorney Jared Margolis of the Center for Biological Diversity commented that any mortalities from the launch, such as concrete chunks and metal being hurled onto National Wildlife Refuge lands, would likely have been dragged off by scavengers, making it difficult to assess the full extent of impacts. The area is home to a number of endangered species, including the piping plover, red knot, jaguarundi, ocelot populations, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. The latter nests on Boca Chica’s beaches between February and June and is one of the world’s most critically endangered sea turtles.
SpaceX has yet to comment on the environmental impact of the launch, but the company’s Starship Super Heavy has been designed to take people and supplies on a mission to Mars in the future. It is currently the largest rocket ever built or launched.
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