Surfer fears planned rocket launches will spoil popular beach Fishery Bay

Surfer fears planned rocket launches will spoil popular beach Fishery Bay
  • PublishedSeptember 15, 2023

It was rekindling a childhood passion for surfing that helped Nikki Honeychurch overcome drug addiction.

The mum from Port Lincoln is celebrating 10 years of both clean health and riding waves at Fishery Bay, a popular beach on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula where she surfs up to five times a week.

It’s become a therapy for her after addiction and depression triggered by bushfire-associated trauma.

But now she’s worried a proposed rocket launch facility nearby will spoil her paradise.

Fire trauma

Australian space company Southern Launch hopes to gain approval for a permanent rocket launch facility at Whalers Way, 32 kilometres south-west of Port Lincoln.

Ms Honeychurch is worried about the noise, and the potential for the Fishery Bay beach to be closed to the public when there are rocket launches or an associated fire risk.

The latter is a trigger for her.

With only one road in and out of Fishery Bay, she fears she’ll be trapped if there’s a fire.

“Unfortunately I went through the 2005 and 2009 bushfires that swept through Eyre Peninsula so that affected me a lot,” Ms Honeychurch said.

She was 15 at the time of the 2005 bushfire that killed nine people.

Ms Honeychurch was evacuated with her family from their Louth Bay home as her father, grandma and uncle tried to save their farm from fire 20km away at Koppio.

Her husband Joshua had to flee his home in the 2009 fire on the edge of Port Lincoln.

Drone aerial photo of clear aqua water, small white cap wave and three surfers in black wetsuits on boards
Ms Honeychurch paddles out with other mums.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

Rocket launch requires up to 32 approvals

Southern Launch chief executive officer Lloyd Damp said the company had complied with environmental and fire safety requirements at its test site.

“The current plans for the site don’t encroach on Fisheries Bay and we’ll be working with state and federal government agencies to ensure that the public is not unduly affected by any future plans from the site,” he said.

Smiling bald man in hi-vis jacket standing in front of rocket in background
Lloyd Damp at the Whalers Way rocket launch site.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“Naturally we’ll be working with the state and federal government and recommending that the safety exclusion zone doesn’t encroach on other public areas but it’s up to the different regulators to actually make that final decision.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Space Agency said it did not set exclusion zones, and they were requested by the launch facility operator to local and state authorities.

The spokesperson said there were a number of factors to determine an exclusion zone including the flight history of the vehicle, the size or construction of the vehicle, and environmental and atmospheric conditions.

“Exclusion zones are generally in place for a limited time during the launch window,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Honeychurch said there were concerns in the future that larger rockets at Whalers Way would expand the exclusion zone and include Fishery Bay.

Mr Damp said a launch from Whalers Way required up to 32 different state and federal approvals.

“It’s a very, very, rigorous, very robust process that our company’s had to follow to make sure that we have all the relevant government departments approving of these activities,” he said.

Greens want inquiry

South Australian Greens MLC Tammy Franks has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the approval process granted to Southern Launch for three failed test rocket launches over the past two years.

There has also been opposition from the Eyre Peninsula Environment Protection Alliance and lobbying by bird enthusiasts to protect the endangered southern emu wren that is found in the area.

Drone aerial view of aqua blue, white sandy beach and green bushland peninsula
Fishery Bay (front) and Whalers Way (back).(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“Put space in the right place,” Ms Franks said.

“That place … [is not] on the tip of a beautiful tourist mecca in the Eyre Peninsula that’s prone to bushfire, that is home to endangered species and that the community loud and clear now, with over 1,200 petitions signed and tabled last week, thinks is the wrong place for space,” Ms Franks said.

State Planning Minister Nick Champion said the government did not support an inquiry.

“We think that there are the appropriate environmental approval processes in place,” Mr Champion said.

“We’ll see them undertaken by experts and we’ll receive that advice and consider it.”

Southern Launch hopes to return to Whalers Way with partner company AT Space before July.

“Our plan is in time we’ll attract the actual rocket manufacturer to do either the manufacture or assembly in the local area,” Mr Damp said.

“We look forward to a time where Port Lincoln actually has facilities where companies are building rockets there on your very own doorstep.”


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