Detail in new Gold Coast hospital plan prompts concern

As development continues to displace endangered Queensland koalas, the government says it is committed to protecting them.

While plans to build a new $1.3 billion public hospital on the Gold Coast have been widely welcomed, some wildlife advocates are concerned about one key detail — it's being built in an area the Queensland government had previously mapped as koala habitat.

Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Linard maintains the government is committed to “protecting and conserving koalas” — a species that is in decline and now listed as endangered. “[Our strategy] includes the strongest koala protections Queensland has ever seen," she told Yahoo.

That commitment is likely welcome news to the Gold Coast's wildlife rescuers who just four months ago expressed concerns koalas will be regionally extinct before 2050, primarily because of habitat fragmentation and disease.

A red box around a drone shot of the Coomera hospital site.
Land in the centre of Coomera will soon be cleared for a new public hospital. Source: David Ryan

Hospital will benefit soaring Gold Coast population

The hospital will be built on a 13-hectare site at 41 George Alexander Way in Coomera. The site is owned by Queensland Health and still covered in trees.

The much-needed 404-bed facility is being built in a suburb that is desperately in need of services as the human population has skyrocketed from 13,000 in 2016 to 21,000 in 2021.

This eastern part of Coomera had been home to 500 koalas in 2018, but their habitat has been rapidly carved up and replaced with new facilities to support the new residents. It now boasts a TAFE, Westfield, Toyota dealership, McDonald’s, KFC and even a Taco Bell.

“Developments that impact on koala habitat within a koala priority area are restricted. Outside koala priority areas, where proposed development cannot avoid impacts on koala habitat, developers are obliged to offset their impacts,” Minister Linard added.

“This is an area where we cannot afford to rest, and the Palaszczuk Government will continue to work to ensure this iconic and much-loved species is protected.”

An aerial view of logged forest in Coomera.
Drone images from this morning illustrate Coomera's transformation from bushland to suburb. Source: David Ryan
Left - a pile of woodchips in Coomera behind a fence. Right - a koala on a tree on the Gold Coast.
Rescuers are concerned koalas will become regionally extinct on the Gold Coast due to ongoing development. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Can offsets protect koalas from developers?

While the minister appears to have confidence in the state’s koala protections, earlier this month University of Queensland researchers issued a warning that changes to the offset program are likely to be needed.

Professor Jonathan Rhodes said he believes payments made to offset removal of koala habitat were likely falling short of what’s required to save the species. A key issue he identified was that there isn’t enough land left to protect or rehabilitate elsewhere.

“Clearly there's a direct conflict between housing development… I think we need to be very clear about where we allow development and where we really don’t, and I don’t know where offsets are really the solution to that,” he said.

Green markings on a map of Coomera show where koala habitat has been mapped.
The green markings along George Alexander Way in Coomera reveal the area has been mapped by the government as koala habitat. Source: QLD Globe
An artist's impression of the new public hospital.
An artist's impression reveals how the new hospital will look. Source: QLD Health

More on Queensland's koalas:

So how much koala habitat will be bulldozed for the hospital?

Queensland Health did not respond directly to a question from Yahoo News about how much koala habitat it plans to remove, and there appears to be a scarcity of information about the masterplan available online.

However, the department confirmed it will retain a "green corridor" for protected vegetation and wildlife.

The project received an environmental assessment in 2021 when the species was listed as vulnerable to extinction under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but prior to them being uplisted to endangered.

"The project was deemed not to be a controlled action under this Act. Controlled actions are those actions that the Minister decides have, will have, or are likely to have a significant impact on one or more protected matters and therefore require assessment and approval under the Act," it said.

Queensland Health said clearing has not yet been undertaken by the government on the site, and "mitigation strategies and the establishment of potential offsets" would be used to fulfil its obligations to state koala protection plans.

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