A new Toyota dealership is being constructed on what had been a koala hotspot, as large swathes of Gold Coast habitat are destroyed to make way for a sprawl of shops and houses.
Despite the species being listed as endangered, the northern suburb of Coomera’s population of 500 koalas is being systematically replaced by a sparkling new array of international businesses. In April, McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell began operating opposite the Westfield which opened in 2018. Just around the corner, Woolworths began clearing land for a new store in September.
The destruction has been described by local conservationists as “death by a thousand cuts”, with no one business responsible for the slow annexation of habitat.
Yahoo News Australia has seen documents showing protected species, including a koala, were seen at the corner of Foxwell Road and the Old Pacific Highway in 2022, showing evidence the Toyota site was being used by wildlife prior to the development. Rescues in the area have been consistent since other developments began across the suburb.
A kilometre north along the Old Pacific Highway, wood chips could be seen piled behind tall wire fencing at a separate development site on Monday. A large raptor nest was photographed sitting precariously on a tree branch in a narrow strip of retained habitat.
With development continuing to soar across the Gold Coast, local wildlife rescuers predict koalas will be extinct on the Gold Coast well before 2050.
Toyota responds to concerns about habitat loss
Toyota Australia responded to questions about the project by saying it is “strongly committed to addressing environmental issues” including biodiversity. The company said it "has not been party to the planning approval processes related to the development" and redirected questions to a Toyota dealership.
The dealership confirmed 138 assessable koala habitat trees were set to be removed. “No koalas were found during the clearing, which was undertaken with a wildlife expert present at all times to ensure the safety of all potential fauna in the area, as well as koalas,” a spokesperson for the dealership said.
The trees were removed last week in accordance with Queensland government and City of Gold Coast laws. “All clearing was completed in accordance with relevant legislation, policy and best-practice management,” the dealership said.
To mitigate the impact of the development, 414 trees were planted in what it says is a “better location” for koalas and these would help provide connectivity through koala corridors.
The dealership says it has acted in an "environmentally responsible and lawful manner".
It plans to erect fauna-proof fencing to keep koalas away from human activities.
An area of land near the creek will be rehabilitated with koala trees and nest boxes.
While developers often offset the impact of their projects by planting trees elsewhere, the practice remains controversial in some conservation circles. In NSW, a separate scheme has enabled developers to buy credits to mitigate the damage done by their projects to wildlife.
How has the Gold Coast community reacted?
In response to the project, many locals expressed concern about the destruction of trees. "How sad, all those trees for a dealership," one person lamented. "Don't they have any sympathy for wildlife?" someone else wondered.
Others however were elated by the convenience the project would bring to their lives. "I have a Toyota so servicing will be so much easier than going to Harbour Town," one local man said. While some expressed concern it would bring extra traffic to an already busy intersection.
Are Australia's wildlife protection laws working?
Australia’s federal environment protection laws are set to be overhauled, but those currently in place to protect endangered species have been described as “ineffective”, “weak” and “tokenistic”.
On Friday, in a separate decision, environment minister Tanya Plibersek controversially approved a new Defence Housing Australia project in Darwin on land that is habitat for endangered Gouldian finches.
In August, the minister approved the clearing of 71 hectares of habitat in Western Australia where a critically endangered possum was known to live. The land was cleared to make way for a road that could save drivers 15 minutes of travel time.
The government’s 2023 budget included measures set to benefit species that are facing extinction by creating two new agencies.
$121 million has been allocated to create Australia’s first independent environment watchdog — Environmental Protection Australia.
$51.5 million over four years to create an agency to provide data on threatened species — Environmental Information Australia.
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