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Like most Australians and people all over the world I have a deep love of koalas. My love goes beyond sentimentality. I am deeply concerned that the risk of localised extinction for koalas on the Tweed coast of New South Wales is a very real possibility in the next 10 years. That is why I do what I can to help. In the following pages you will find in depth information outlining the issues and impacts I have observed and the many dialogues I have had with local council and other government bodies in an attempt to remedy a terrible situation for koalas here at Black Rocks (near Pottsville, NSW). Truly Tweed Shire’s Coastal koalas are at the cross roads. Under leading ecologist and koala expert, Dr Steve Phillips’ directorship, the Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Study (TCKHS) (click TCKHS-2011.pdf to download) – which was completed by Council in 2011 – revealed that there were only an estimated 144 koalas left on the Tweed Coast, and that there had been a 50% population decline in the previous decade. Three years later Dr Phillips announced that he believes that this number has declined even further to an estimated 100-110, and at at this rate we can expect Tweed Coast koalas will be extinct by 2025-2030.
Why have our koalas declined? The biggest threat has been fire, the latest event being in the Pottsville Wetlands on Christmas day 2014 when over 200ha of primary and secondary koala habitat was destroyed or severely damaged, and an estimated 30-60% (according to Dr Phillips) of the Pottsville Wetlands-Black Rocks koala source population may have perished. Then there is habitat fragmentation, with major collector roads dissecting the corridor. Vehicle strike is killing many Tweed Coast koalas along Clothiers Creek Road. Also whenever koalas are on the ground whilst relocating (or because they are too sick to climb trees) they are vulnerable to dog attack. TCKHS 2011 formed the main supporting document upon which council developed the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management, which was endorsed by council in 2015. However, in Dr Steve Phillips submission to council he states: In order to assist the remaining population(s) to meet that challenge (i.e. the terminal issue of localised extinction) an extraordinarily bold and recovery orientated Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) was required. Instead, what has eventuated is at best a very ordinary, conforming and predictable planning document that is more focused on political acceptance and conforming to the Department of Planning’s dicta, than it is about the immensely more important task of recovering the Tweed Coast koalas.
TCKHS 2011 revealed there is a need to determine what actions (if any) can be enacted north of the Tweed River to avoid what otherwise appears to be an inexorable trajectory towards localised extinction within a timeframe of 5 10 years (i.e. 2016 2021). Unless bold, strong, assertive action is taken, the Tweed Coast koalas south of the Tweed River are facing the same fate. We are now looking at a residential development at Kings Forest (west of Casuarina), which will house up to 10,000 people, with the only entry/exit road dissecting the koala corridor. Another residential development housing up to 6,000 people is planned for Dunloe Park (west of Pottsville), with an earmarked link road to the coast (Kellehers Road) also dissecting the koala corridor.
Unfortunately decisions were made to go against the response of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2002 that the Black Rocks sports field in its proposed (now current) location would sever the corridor and create human disturbance. Since it has been open to the public in 2010 the resident and breeding koalas have endured ongoing stress and disturbance from human-related impactive activities, with seven known Black Rocks koalas affected by the stress-related disease chlamydia (five are dead, a joey has been released after capture and treatment, and the mother remains uncaptured and untreated). The cause of death of another Black Rocks koala is unknown. However, there is an opportunity to provide a large habitat block in this location with sufficient buffers from the impacts which are driving the Pottsville Wetlands/Black Rocks/Tweed Coast koalas towards extinction. If the Black Rocks sports field (which is at the junction of 3 koala linkage corridors) were revegetated with koala habitat trees (as recommended by Dr Phillips and other ecologists), it would provide koalas with a substantial area within which to move safely and to facilitate dispersal of gene diversity. As the habitat surrounding the sports field was not affected by the recent fire, Dr Phillips has announced that it is the last stronghold from where recolonisation of the koala source population can primarily occur. In his Tweed Coast KPoM submission, Dr Phillips states: How encouraging it would have been (in the context of koala habitat restoration) to look at an illustrated Figure detailing the extent of gap-filling across the remaining range of koalas across the entire Tweed Coast, along with a commitment to have localities such as Black Rocks planted out within the first 3 5 years of the plan.
There are extensive walking/cycling trails throughout the Black Rocks area, with easy access to Mooball Creek and the ocean. The Black Rocks sports field was rarely used for sporting and recreational purposes. However since the revegetation campaign commenced in 2014, regular cricket matches have been scheduled for the Black Rocks sports field even though other cricket pitches in Pottsville were vacant. All senior cricket matches at the Black Rocks sports field have been played by out-of-town cricket clubs. Statistics documented in council’s recent Tweed Shire Sports Fields Strategy reveal that there is an oversupply of sporting infrastructure in the southern precinct, which includes Pottsville, based on actual current demand. To give up 4ha of open space (at the Black Rocks sports field), which is critical to the survival of koalas, is not a sacrifice but a gift to the environment and the life it supports. It is therefore up to us, the community, to ensure our koalas are there for our children, and do not become another extinction statistic.
Please dont hesitate to contact us if you would like to help. On behalf of our koalas, thank you. David Norris, President, Threatened Species Conservation Society Inc. (sourced from webstie 6/11/2021)