Space junk seen as threat to Florida’s protected reefs, fisheries

space junk ap
What do you do with things falling out of the sky?

“Space junk, bombs, atomic lasers falling from the sky,” the B-52s’ Fred Schneider sings. “Where’s my umbrella?”

A joke posed in three decades-old college rock song nonetheless comes to mind, as, indeed, what do you do with things falling out of the sky? There aren’t a lot of answers for that at the moment.

“For the ongoing activities at Kennedy Space Center, does NOAA Fisheries have any kind of voice in what’s taking place there?” asked Laurilee Thompson, a Titusville seafood restaurant owner and member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC). 

“Because we’ve done a lot of work to set aside the Oculina reef habitat and Lophelia and deep-water corals habitat, and space junk is raining out of the sky onto these essential fish habitats off of Cape Canaveral.”

Thompson spoke during the SAFMC quarterly meetings this week at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. She asked her questions after a report by Cindy Cooksey, Chairwoman of the SAFMC Habitat Protection and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel. 

“I know that it’s happening off the Oculina reef because our rock shrimp boats are towing, in-shore and off-shore, the reef, and they are progressively collecting more and more space junk,” Thompson said.

“It’s tearing up their nets, they’re losing their catches, they’re losing fishing time. And now we have a new proposal where we were commenting on splashdown areas where things that are coming back from space are going to land in the ocean, and they’re going to release the residual fuels that are still onboard the spacecraft into the ocean.”

Cooksey, who is also a fishery biologist for NOAA’s Southeast Regional Office, in the Habitat Conservation Division, said she would like a way to document those space junk interactions. There’s not a lot of documentation on hand that federal regulators can use during the permitting process to address falling space junk hazards.

“Because this is an activity that’s already been permitted, I’m personally not aware of many options we would have to address that issue now,” Cooksey said.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


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