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Saying no way to Whaler’s Way

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It’s easy to get excited about South Australia’s burgeoning space industry. Supporting a growing space industry, and the vital jobs that come with it, presents a good opportunity for South Australia. However, it should not come at the cost of endangered wildlife.

Located roughly 32km south of Port Lincoln, Whalers Way Sanctuary is a place of cultural significance for the Nauo people. Its areas of natural scrub, cliffs and coastal vegetation provide habitat to some of South Australia’s most unique bird species. Some, like the southern emu wren, a tawny brown and blue reminiscent of its fairy wren cousin, are endangered.

Yet, instead of protecting the natural environment that many South Australians and tourists cherish as an area to camp and enjoy the wilderness, the State and Federal Governments has allowed it to be developed as a rocket launch site.

Whalers Way Sanctuary is home to unique and threatened bird species not found anywhere else in the world. Some species, such as the southern emu wren and tawny brown and blue, are teetering on the brink of extinction. Despite the site’s heritage listing, start-up company Southern Launch is currently seeking an extension to continue its rocket launch testing operations and has also developed a proposal to turn the Sanctuary into a permanent rocket launching site. This poses a significant environmental risk.

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eastern whipbird
The Eastern Whipbird. Source: Greg Miles on Wikimedia Commons

There is also great concern over the proposed rocket launching site’s proximity to the Uley Basin, a body of water that provides approximately 70 per cent of the Eyre Peninsula’s piped water. Hazardous material produced by Southern Launch has the potential to leak into nearby waterways, the ocean, and the surrounding environment. A single failure at the facility could have catastrophic consequences on local fauna, flora, and human lives.

Whalers Way is a protected heritage site, and our state laws should have precluded it from being turned into a large-scale, experimental, industrial site. Why is an area zoned for conservation not protected? And if this launch complex is approved for Whalers Way, what other protected sites around the region, and the state, will also be at risk of suffering the same fate?

Building an experimental rocket launch facility on a historically and naturally significant site is outrageous, and environmental groups and the local Port Lincoln community have rightly expressed their concerns about this project. A local resident claimed they were assured by Southern Launch that launches would not take place when whales were present, yet a launch (which failed and caught fire) was attempted when whales were in local waters.

South Australia’s laws must protect endangered native species, not put them at risk.

Yesha Joshi is an environmentalist and former Greens Candidate for the Legislative Council.

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Yesha Joshi
Yesha Joshi
is a former Political Adviser working for The Greens in Parliament House SA and writes about political and social justice issues.

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