Aussie suburb that's destroying endangered koala habitat

A mother koala was photographed on Sunday sitting at the top of a tall tree.

The tree is located on a busy road amongst remnant habitat left after the rest of the site was bulldozed.

The following morning, locals returned to check on the koala's health. She was gone.

A tree that a koala called home was bulldozed on Foxwell Road, Coomera, this week. Source: Supplied
A tree that a koala called home was bulldozed on Foxwell Road, Coomera, this week. Source: Supplied

By Wednesday, the habitat she was living in had been cleared.

It was situated in the Gold Coast suburb of Coomera, a once thickly forested region that in 2018 was home to 500 koalas.

Rescuers living in the area routinely rescue between two and six koalas a day.

Koala habitat replaced by supermarkets and houses

Residents are increasingly voicing alarm at rapid development which is changing in the suburb.

Last week, Woolworths cut down several trees to make way for a new supermarket, five minutes away from another Woolworths supermarket.

This development is not an isolated occurrence. A Westfield shopping Centre, KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks have all recently been built to service the growing population.

The koala was living at at site on Foxwell Road in Coomera. Source: Supplied
The koala was living at at site on Foxwell Road in Coomera. Source: Supplied

The Queensland government also has plans to build a new motorway, the Coomera Connector, through what is currently healthy koala habitat.

Aside from the Coomera Connector, approval for these developments largely occurred before the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires, prior to koalas being listed as endangered.

Tanya Plibersek responds to plight of Coomera koalas

Australia has more than 1900 species protected by the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

However, in 2021, independent reviewer Professor Graeme Samuel found the EPBC was “ineffective” and needed to be overhauled.

The Morrison Government declined to adopt many of Professor Samuel’s recommendations, and the Albanese government has since committed to “consult widely” and provide its own response before 2023.

Following questions from Yahoo News Australia about the koala situation in Coomera, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said habitat protection is largely regulated by state and territory governments.

“Most of the land cleared in Australia never comes under our national environment laws – because it’s done small piece by small piece," she added.

How to stop koala habitat fragmentation

Minister Plibersek’s characterisation of land clearing echoes the words of Karina Waterman from Coomera Conservation Group who said her suburb’s wildlife is experiencing a “death by a thousand cuts”.

Ms Waterman believes it unlikely that land already approved for development can be saved as lawsuits to stop construction in Queensland have failed and the cost of buybacks is prohibitive.

That doesn't mean she thinks it's acceptable that koalas are forced out of suburban areas by development.

One solution she would like enacted is the protection and regeneration of habitat protected so animals can travel in and out of densely forested areas.

“So they're not trapped what we want to do is stop creating islands and create connectivity,” she said.

Six simple steps to help Coomera's koalas

While many only cry foul after the bulldozers have moved in and it’s too late to save habitat, Ms Waterman wants to see better conservation planning at new developments. This could include:

  • Connecting fragmented habitats

  • Building straight rather than circular streets that wildlife can navigate

  • Planting appropriate feed trees

  • Constructing fences that koalas are able to climb over

  • Building overpasses to avoid vehicle strikes

  • Cohesive management plans for koalas living in fragmented habitat

How Council and the State Government are helping koalas

While there is much work to be done, Ms Waterman believes the council and state government are making some progress improving the welfare of koalas.

She points to work currently being undertaken at a state and local level to protect portions of habitat, vaccinate against chlamydia, and improve wildlife crossing signage.

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon told Yahoo News Australia she believes her government has introduced the “strongest koala protections in Queensland’s history”.

Two images of displaced koalas in a backyard.
Koalas are often left displaced by development on the Gold Coast. Source: WildCare

The measures involve protecting more than 714,000 hectares of koala habitat in South East Queensland, which includes the Gold Coast.

“Those protections mean developments are prohibited and restricted from removing native vegetation in koala habitat areas,” Ms Scanlon said.

The state government has also purchased habitat to be set aside for koalas, including almost 400 hectares of land that links to the Pimpama River River Conservation Area.

The City of Gold Coast has protected over 1,000 hectares of koala habitat and said it is working to restore and connect corridors to “address fragmentation issues”.

While such acquisitions will help wildlife living in those habitats, koala habitat in Coomera continues to disappear.

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