NASA and Nature, Earth Day Partners
At the place where NASA spacecraft begin their journey, Earth Day activities bring the focus a little closer to home along the pristine beaches that line NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
The space center shares its sliver of Florida's east coast with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as it boarders the Canaveral National Seashore. For years, they have coexisted, marrying the high-tech efforts of reaching for space with maintaining Earth's natural best. Kennedy's department of environmental management is charged with helping to maintain this balance.
Thirty-six-year Kennedy employee Maggie Forbes, an environment protection specialist, said, "We decided to do something different this year to support the 40th anniversary of Earth Day."
Forbes drew from the ranks of NASA workers and space center contractors, as well as outside resources like the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Keep Brevard Beautiful. On April 9, buses of volunteers from the Kennedy work force descended on the center's beaches to spend several hours scouring the sand for items that had washed ashore, collecting two truckloads of wood, 270 pounds of recyclables and 200 bags of trash.
As in other beach cleanups, the volunteers were likely to find a cornucopia of stray items, anything from trash tossed overboard by cruise passengers to messages in bottles launched from faraway places. All the collected debris was retrieved and properly disposed of by the program, with much of it being recyclable. Unlike what might be found along a public beach, all of the debris that litters Kennedy's restricted beaches washes up from items discarded at sea.
While unsightly, the trash also can disturb a sensitive nesting ground for several types of sea turtles. With the space center beaches part of the No. 1 nesting area in the Western Hemisphere for loggerhead sea turtles, the cleanup had to be carefully planned in advance of the beginning of their nesting season.
Sea turtle biologist Shanon Gann, a contractor with Innovative Health Applications, sees it as an ongoing effort. "It's definitely important that we are good stewards of this land, even if tomorrow all this trash comes right back. We can't control what Mother Nature brings us, so we go back out and clean it up again."
While an event like Earth Day can bring extra emphasis and awareness to the thousands of workers at the space center, it is just part of the ongoing efforts that continue throughout the year.
"We have quite a large program out here -- larger than any of the (NASA) centers," said Kimberly Finch of Kennedy's environmental management office. "We have 140,000 acres and most of it is wildlife refuge. In everything we do out here, we consider the environmental requirements and impacts, for any kind of activity, from small to large."
In the end, the success of the cleanup can't be measured just by tons of trash, but also by the heightened awareness -- a reminder to Kennedy's work force to remain good tenants of Earth as they continue to reach for the stars.
Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center