Redlands2030 welcomed Australian Koala Foundation representative Douglas Kerlin to their monthly discussion group. His frank and insightful presentation about the plight of koalas in Redlands, Queensland and across Australia was not only interesting …but sadly alarming. Australia’s best known “ambassador” is in deep trouble.
Douglas is the Chief Ecologist with the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) having started with the Foundation in 2004. He has a wealth of experience locally and abroad but in his own words “after a few breaks to do his PhD in Scotland, and do research in other areas he keeps coming back to Koalas”.
Koalas are already listed “vulnerable to extinction”
Douglas spoke of the plight of koala’s in the face of habitat destruction, the toll dogs, cars and disease. He reminded the meeting that in 2012, the Koala was listed as ‘vulnerable to
extinction‘, under Australian Law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The listing came about because of continued decline in koala numbers across Australia. The decline in koala numbers in the Redlands is alarming (80% gone within 20 years) but he felt the situation called for a real vision for Koala recovery, not just Koala protection. The survival of Koalas needs to be about more than simply protecting the few remaing individuals, but instead needs to focus on rebuilding numbers, and providing habitat for those increased numbers.
This EPBC listing was the result of endless lobbying by the AKF and others. A Senate Inquiry led the way and the AKFs CEO, Deborah Tabart OAM sat through each Senate hearing, overviewed approximately 100 submissions.
The resulting report was a damning indictment on Australia and its inability to protect its iconic species the Koala.
It was the AKF and Doug’s view that the EPBC has failed. And that the protection afforded to koalas under the federal legislation appears to be, being watered down.
A Koala Protection Act
The AKF is now calling for a Koala Protection Act, similar to a Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (known as the Bald Eagle Act). The American act was enacted (in the USA) in 1942. Too bad Australia didn’t follow that precedent.
The Koala Protection Act will protect Koalas and their habitat. It will require for developers and others to demonstrate that their activity (usually habitat destruction) has a benign impact on koalas. Sadly, in his view the current law deals with “significant impacts”. The result is a poorly defined criteria that too often enables meaningful protection measures to be sidestepped.
The AKF is working towards the KPA being enacted and implemented into Australia. Federal projection for our iconic koalas law doing away with myriad attempts by various State Governments and ineffective local governments to blur the collective failure at koala protection.
Koala friendly development
Dougls also spoke of koala friendly developments including his evaluation of Koala Beach near Pottsville in NSW. Developed on the mid 1990s Out of a total area of 365 hectares owned by the developer, 272 hectares have been dedicated intact to conservation. The housing estate has been designed around the remaining 93 hectares.
Koala Beach featured mechanisms to protect the resident Koala colony including:
- No cats and dogs within the estate.
- The inclusion of traffic calming throughout the estate.
- A requirement that all fences within the estate be raised so that Koalas and other wildlife can enjoy free access around the estate.
- The protection of all significant Koala food trees, and additional tree plantings.
- The establishment of a Wildlife and Habitat Management Committee with funding from an environment levy on the rates.
Thirty years on the principles seem to have worked and koalas have survived in the subdivision. Sadly he reported that the local Council is not enforcing some compliance issues and the consequences are not ideal for koalas. He was of the opinion that Koala Beach had achieved better outcomes than were achieved in nearby developments using traditional planning solutions.
All up it seemed koala outcomes depend on ongoing commitment by the local community and the local council. In the case of Koala Beach (and other projects mentioned) that level of commitment has wavered over time. So koalas die.
Local ideas tested
Douglas was asked about suggestions to relocate existing koalas to Stradbroke Island. He was concerned that idea would do more harm than good, especially to the koalas already on the island.
He estimated that relocating koalas had a mortality rate of about 80-100% but he acknowledged more research was needed.
Vaccination of sick koalas has merit but he pointed out to the “koala novice” audience that Chlamydia is a bacterial infection and is largely present naturally in koalas. Serious sicknesses come about from stress (like loss of habitat) and that broad vaccination programs would kill essential stomach bacteria that koalas need to digest eucalyptus leaves…a real uh ha moment! Clearly attempts at vaccination involve more than a quick jab.
In terms of impacts of development on koalas Doug referred to the controlled assessment of koalas along the Moreton Bay Rail project. He told of the death of 281 koalas during the construction of the Moreton Bay Rail Link between March 2013 to June 2016. Government policy failures abound!
He welcomed local efforts to tag koalas, an initiative of the Koala Action group (KAG) and friends in the vicinity of Toondah Harbour. He was pleasantly surprised to hear the results of a recent koala count …. which scored 19 koalas in Toondah precinct including a number of healthy joeys.
He was questioned about new impacts of the new Redland City Plan Scheme or the draft SEQ Regional Plan. He iterated that more research, another expert panel’s deliberations would make little difference. We already know that the loss of koala food and habitat trees must be stopped and the impact of cars and dogs mitigated.
He iterated the AKF’s position that more of the same will not work…it is time for a Koala Protection Act!
Douglas Kerlin’s pragmatic assessment of the plight of koalas in Redlands was, overall , ….. “its grim”.
Attendees were impressed with his scientific knowledge about koalas and his anecdotes and insights about the plight faced by koalas. It was a sobering yet appreciated presentation of the “koala facts”.
Those in attendance agreed Redlands2030 should invite the AKF’s Chief Executive Officer (Deborah Tabart) to a meeting early in 2017 so the community can learn more about the AKF’s call for the Koala Protection Act and who or what are the blockages!
Note that local forums about the SEQ Regional Plan are an ideal opportunity to ask questions of State Government planners about koalas. To date it is clear that neither koalas nor their advocates are stakeholders in the draft Shaping SEQ or the draft SEQ Regional Plan.
Put the consultation planners to the task, ask questions like:
- mechanisms in the new Plan that will protect koalas?
- are the mechanisms as good as provided for in the existing SEQ Regional Plan?
- why are koalas mentioned less in the new plan than in the old?
- Why are we waiting for another experts report on the plight of koalas?
- Why not apply the pre-cautionary principle and protect koala habitat and food trees outright, now?
Redlands2030 – 10 December 2016