Sea Turtle Inc. ‘not concerned’ about SpaceX activities


SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (KVEO) — SpaceX’s goals of sending people to Mars aboard the Starship rocket are still in the early trials, often with fiery endings that send debris in all directions. Leading some to wonder if wildlife in the area is impacted by the debris.

The beaches of South Texas and Northern Mexico are home to the rarest, most critically endangered sea turtle on the planet: the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been on the endangered species list since the 1970s, and where Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay their eggs is very important.

“Our beaches here, South Padre as well as Boca Chica beach, both of these are very important to nesting females, and to nesting Kemp’s ridleys. Those are the primary species that we have nesting here,” said Dr. Amy Bonka, the chief conservation officer at Sea Turtle Inc.

The SpaceX launch facility is located just steps away from the dunes on Boca Chica beach, where turtles go to lay their eggs.

With all of the high altitude Starship launches ending in fireballs so far, some might wonder if nesting sea turtles are in danger from debris. 

SpaceX launches happen pretty infrequently, with only four launches since the first one in December 2020, so there may be fewer than five launches during the April to August nesting season for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.

For the most part, the rockets have all exploded either upon the impact of landing or very shortly after they landed successfully, as with Starship SN10. Starship SN11 was different. It exploded in midair, which allowed debris to be thrown as far as Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island.

But that’s not the usual outcome.

“Right now, no, we are not concerned,” said Bonka.

Bonka told KVEO that preliminary studies had been done on the number of turtles nesting in the nearby dunes before SpaceX even began launching rockets and that so far the launches have not had a noticeable impact.

An occasional road closure and an explosion don’t have a tremendous impact on their rescue efforts either.

“[SpaceX is] very aware of the nesting season, they’re very aware of the nesting process. They are supportive and on board, with all that we do, to patrol for nesting females and things like that,” said Bonka.

This nesting season will be different from previous ones though because this will be the first nesting season that SpaceX is conducting high altitude tests.

But the previous low altitude tests didn’t have a negative impact on the number of nesting turtles according to Bonka.

“We have seen a general increase in those numbers,” Bonka said when asked about the difference in the number of nesting turtles the past few years. “So this year we aren’t certain if the numbers will be the same or higher than what they were last year. We’re very excited to see what happens.”

If you are on South Padre Island or Boca Chica Beach and you see a nesting, stranded or injured turtle, please call Sea Turtle Inc.’s 24-hour emergency number at (956) 243-4361.

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