BROWNSVILLE, Texas (April 20, 2023) — Although unsuccessful today, this and future launches of the Starship rocket by SpaceX at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Texas threaten the health and stability of critically important plant and animal species along the South Texas coast and border. More than 515 species of birds have been recorded in the lower Rio Grande Valley, many of which are classified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas and three of which are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act: Aplomado Falcon, Piping Plover, and Red Knot.
The area surrounding Starbase is considered important migratory bird habitat for the millions of birds, from multiple flyways, that converge on the area during their spring and fall migrations. National Audubon’s Bird Migration Explorer tool identifies 458 species of birds from 19 countries and elsewhere in the US, which travel to or are avian residents at Boca Chica. Shorebirds from around the world converge on the refuge during the non-breeding season (September – March) to forage, rest, and build a large enough energy reserve to continue migration to other nesting grounds. Included in these wintering and stopover species are two of the listed species noted above, the Red Knot and the Piping Plover, which depend on healthy and productive bay and estuarine shorelines and tidal flats. It is currently peak spring migration season for birds in Texas, with South Texas hosting the greatest number of migratory bird species in the state. The increasing size and frequency of launches by SpaceX threatens the survivability of resident and migratory birds and could be detrimental for endangered birds and wildlife.
“We still lack a great deal of information, consideration, and understanding of how these activities impact the fragile surrounding habitats that are so important for birds and other species of wildlife in this part of the state,” according to Lisa Gonzalez, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon Texas. “Thanks to the monitoring efforts of local partners we do know that species like Snowy, Wilson’s, and Piping Plovers are exhibiting declines in local numbers, and it is important to understand broader impacts. We should all care about this, because where birds thrive, people prosper.”
SpaceX’s plans for this area have strayed considerably since the first Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2014. The process of conducting an EIS is a time-tested way to assess the potential impacts of a large project on its environment and surrounding community, first required in 1969 under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). In 2022, Audubon Texas went on the record requesting that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require a new EIS for SpaceX activities at Boca Chica. However, the FAA issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment and a Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision. With the April 2023 issuance of a FAA license for the orbital flight test of the world’s largest and most powerful rocket, impacts like construction and launch noise, launch vibration and heat, nighttime operational lighting, heavy traffic, road closures, launch debris, and runoff from the site will be increasingly experienced by nearby avian and human inhabitants in the direct vicinity.
Public funds and decades of conservation and restoration work have gone into creating civic treasures that provide connectivity to nature and critical habitat for wildlife and birds. The SpaceX facilities lie within close proximity to some of the state’s most cherished wildlife refuge lands. Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located directly to the south, Boca Chica State Park to the north, and the nearby Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Sabal Palm Sanctuary, home to one of the most beautiful and rare ecosystems of South Texas and Northern Mexico, is located just 20 miles to the southeast. It is important that local communities and managers of nearby protected lands understand what is being given up at Boca Chica in exchange for advances in commercial space flight. When we protect what birds need, we sustain our communities.
About Audubon Texas
Audubon Texas is the state office of the National Audubon Society. The National Audubon
Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation organization that protects birds and the places
they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education,
and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon Texas's state programs, three nature centers in San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth, a South Texas sanctuary, and a network of 21 local chapters and numerous partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities for conservation action. Audubon's vision is a world in which people and wildlife thrive. For more information and to find your local chapter visit https://tx.audubon.org/. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Dallas Kelley, Audubon Texas