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An idea without Merritt

March 7, 2008
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Brand new movie-themed I and the Bird from Earth, Wind, and Water.

Brought to my attention from Birdchick’s blog, was this item in the Orlando Sentinal. NASA, in its infinite, chronically underfunded wisdom, wants to expand its facility to incorporate a private spacecraft launch complex. Whether or not private space travel is feasible enough to be a reality could be a topic on its own. I personally think the energy requirements will make conventional space travel impractical in the near future. Your mileage may vary of course, but the issue becomes one of interest to birders because this complex is slated to be constructed on Merritt Island NWR, one of the best birding sites on the Atlantic Coast.

Interestingly, Merritt Island might have become just another developed chunk of Florida beach real estate if it hadn’t been for the space program. To provide room for the Space Center, the area was purchased by NASA and turned into a wildlife refuge, so it contains quite a bit of relatively undisturbed habitat.

I’ve birded Merritt Island on just one occasion, with my wife and her mother during a holiday trip to Florida. Christmas morning (just another day for my Jewish family) we woke early and made the trip on what turned out to be an overcast day. My life Florida Scrub-Jay and the many manatees surfacing in the Indian River made it memorable though. Waterfowl were plentiful and one can never see too many Roseate Spoonbills. But those memories could be a thing of the past if NASA get their way. From the article:

“There are just a lot of unknowns,” said Dorn Whitmore, supervising ranger at the refuge. “It could close most of the refuge to visitors. Half of Mosquito Lagoon could be closed all or part of the time, and parts of Playalinda Beach could be shut down.”

Truly a shame. However, if there is anything the folks on the space coast who oppose this plan can take some manner of solace in, it’s the similar situation in North Carolina, where government plans to build an air field were derailed by focused civic action. Granted the NC land was primarily privately owned, but Merritt Island is far more of a destination birding locale than eastern Carolina, and the Space Coast Birding Festival and the money brought it brings can be co-opted into the centerpiece for this fight.

It still remains to be seen whether this private space center gets off the ground, so to speak. But birders have the opportunity to show their political power by banding together to fight it.

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