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Rocket launch site could threaten endangered southern emu-wren

Construction of the planned permanent rocket launching facility at Whaler’s Bay in South Australia may push some species to extinction, including the southern emu-wren. The southern emu-wren is listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.

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The proposed construction by Southern Launch, an Australian startup that operates the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex, is behind the project. The project is expected to help grow Australia’s space industry. A temporary launch pad has already been developed at the site and used for test firing the Hapith I rocket in September.

Related: Here’s how the billionaire space race hurts the environment

Conservationists have challenged the plans to build a permanent launch facility. The Nature Conservation Society of South Australia (NCSSA) opposes the plan, arguing that it would wipe out habitats for the endangered southern emu-wren. The bird is native to the Eyre Peninsula, and damaging its habitat may lead to extinction. Conservationists also worry about the western whipbird, which also relies on the habitat targeted by the project.

The proposed launching pad threatens not only these birds but the ecosystem at large. According to the proposal, the launching pad would host up to 35 launches each year when operating on a commercial scale. This would mean increased air pollution and chances of fire.

Patrick O’Connor, an ecologist with the University of Adelaide, warned of how this project could impact the birds. “We’ve already lost more habitat than this [southern emu-wren] species can reasonably tolerate,” O’Connor said. “If we lose this site, it’s just a matter of time. They’ll either hang on in the state they’re in, but if a big site like Whaler’s Way goes the risk is extinction.”

The current plans include constructing two permanent launch pads and support infrastructures such as fuel storage tanks, roads, power generators and offices. The space needed for the facility would require clearing about 23.7 hectares (58.7 acres) of vegetation. Although the project is still under review by the South Australian government, conservationists are raising the alarm to avoid further endangering the habitat.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Laurie Boyle

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