The State of Georgia Coastal Management Program (GCMP) is reviewing the information provided to ensure the proposed activities authorized by the FAA are consistent with Georgia’s enforceable environmental policies. Comments specific toGCMP’s enforceable policies regarding this project should be submitted in writing to Diana Taylor, Department of Natural Resources, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, Georgia 31520 or emailed to CRD.Comments@dnr.ga.gov and must be received by the close of business March 8, 2021. For more details on the project go to: https://coastalgadnr.org/Spaceport . Wild Cumberland has already laid out all the reasons that this spaceport SHOULD NOT be permitted: https://wildcumberland.org/spaceport/ .
To bring further enlightenment to why this is still such a significant matter of concern not only to the citizens of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, but also to the others that support the Gullah/Geechee keeping their cultural alive and protecting the coastal environment are the words of Kimberly Castaneda:
The Gullah/Geechee Nation lives along the coast of the southeastern United States, from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. The Gullah/Geechee people are descendants of various African ethnic groups that were brought to this region enslaved to primarily cultivate rice, Sea Island cotton and indigo. Currently, the Gullah/Geechee people make up the highest population in the South Carolina and Georgia southeastern coast. Gullah/Geechees have tirelessly fought and continue to fight for the continuation of Gullah/Geechee culture, preservation of their language, heritage and history as well as the preservation, reacquisition and maintenance of their land.
Recently, Camden County has proposed to set up a private commercial spaceport in Georgia where they aim to launch rockets over Cumberland Island National Seashore which is the largest federally-protected wilderness area on the eastern seaboard. These rocket launches would require extensive closures of public waterways including the Satilla River, St. Andrews Sound, and the Intracoastal Waterway. The rocket launches would also require extensive closures of public fishing areas including inshore/offshore, bait zones, shellfish harvest areas, and reefs. The Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association (www.GullahGeecheeFishing.net) has continued to fight to hold onto their subsistence traditions that their ancestors passed down. The previously mentioned closures would cause tremendous harm to Gullah/Geechee fishing families.
Camden County Spaceport license applications have not directly imposed any limit on the frequency or number of days that could be subject to these navigation restrictions. Although Spaceport Camden implies that closures will occur up to 12 times a year, it is likely that this is subject to significant change, noting that nearly every launch in recent history has been rescheduled or postponed during final countdown – resulting in multiple closures for a single, and later, various launches. These closures are expected to be made on short notice and will change each time a launch is cancelled due to weather, possibility of triggered lightning, technical difficulties, or a safety zone intrusion.
Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine, an environmental justice advocate, founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and a founding member and secretary of the GGFA, speaks on the inter-connected nature of Gullah/Geechee traditions and the Sea Island environment saying, “De waterways are our bloodline and the land is our family.” Since the 1600s, Gullah/Geechee people have historically harvested from the Intercoastal Waterway in a manner that their African and Indigenous American ancestors did before their kidnapping along the west coast of Africa. By putting these waterways at risk of contamination from the rockets used by the spaceport, you are not momentarily but permanently damaging the already limited connection that Gullah/Geechee people have to their roots in Africa. Gullah/Geechee people traditionally use the island to reunite with families, farm, cultivate fruits and vegetables from local plants, and hunt and fish in creeks from places like St. Helena Island in South Carolina.
The Gullah/Geechee people have a custom of teaching their children the traditional ways to garden and harvest from the water in respect to the season. They teach sustainability, and they teach responsibility, to avoid harming the sea and land with materials such as styrofoam that, unlike trees, do not rot. If people are forced to leave their traditional costumes, there will be a disconnect between new and older generations, where older generations will no longer be able to teach newer generations how to fish and hunt and preserve land. Consequently, the culture will rapidly collapse because generations will no longer understand the traditions and culture of their roots. Queen Quet always states: “Hunnuh mus tek cyare de root fa heal de tree.”
Ment Nelson, whose art is featured in a traveling Smithsonian exhibition, understands the importance of having that generational connection. Practicing traditional fishing, hunting and cultivation methods is how Gullah/Geechees continue their culture. Nelson uses his art to highlight traditions, such as fishing with his grandmother, to keep the culture alive.
Putting spaceports on the island will deprive the efforts already made to maintain Gullah/Geechee culture on the Sea Islands. Associations such as the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association will no longer be able to advocate for the rights of Gullah/Geechee and African American fishermen and fishery workers. They will no longer be able to highlight traditional fishery methods with the upcoming generations. They will not be able to restore access areas and factories needed to sustain the seafood industry in the nation and southeastern United States.
The threat of exploitative tourism, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other ocean concerns that are caused by the unethical goal of industrial advancements pose a threat to the decline of oysters, blue crabs, catfish, coakers, shrimp etc. that can damage the Gullah/Geechee food industry. The Gullah/Geechee seawork, which includes harvesting, net making and boat building, is essential to the literal sustainability of the Gullah/Geechee’s Nation‘s economy. The Gullah/Geechee are already fighting to have access to their land. Gullah/Geechees have been driven out of the creeks due to numerous permit fees and fines from federal policies relating to fisheries regulations and environmental policy. Further unnecessary damage to the resources within coastal areas on the island by the spaceport will further limit the amount of access that Gullah/Geechee have to their ocean. It is costly to reconstruct or rehabilitate these coastal resources especially when Gullah/Geechee people are trying to raise funds on their own. Putting further economic pressure increases the probability of Gullah/Geechee people being restricted from their access to their ocean, which would continue to tear apart and starve out the families that depend on fishing to live.
Spaceport Camden appropriates an extra 610 acres of upland on Cumberland Island, among the original appropriated 9,000 acres (more than 14 square miles) of protected wetlands and tidal marsh adjacent to the proposed launch site. Launch failures often occur adjacent to proposed launch centers. In this case, the launch hazard zone (LHZ) which extends 74% of its area over Georgia’s inter-coastal tidal marsh is the area at most risk. Faulty rockets may crash land and contaminate the soil of the coast causing the death of plants, animals, even bacteria and nematodes in the soil. Successful launches may even spread heavy metal around this area which can cause buildup of pollutants in the very sea creatures that Gullah/Geechee people eat.
Pollutants may also leach into groundwater which poses risks for people as well. People depend on groundwater for hydration and its contamination may cause serious health problems, among them, types of cancers and diseases such as hepatitis, dysentery and other waterborne illnesses. Poor water quality may also cause serious economic damage. Industries linked to water use, fisherman for example, may suffer economically if more and more marine life dies.
It is critical that the general public bring awareness to this issue as soon as possible. Stakes are already so high and it is our responsibility as allies to help our Gullah/Geechee brothers and sisters protect their environment and culture. This is a matter of commercial action vs. cultural preservation and continuation and it is our responsibility to hold leaders accountable, such as Governor Kemp from the state of Georgia, to fulfill their duty to help the people by taking into account the environmental damage that can result from these rockets. Launching rockets over this federally-protected wilderness area will be detrimental to the lives of thousands of Gullah/Geechee people, who are already federally recognized as a national minority.