Fear wind farm noise could displace 'critically important' koala populations

Experts fear endangered koala populations could be displaced by noise from planned wind farm developments across Far North Queensland.

The concern stems from the low hum generated by the turbines which researchers believe could drown out the mating bellows made by males which have a mean of approximately 60 Hertz.

Koala populations from Atherton to west of Ingham survive in “very low abundance”, and according to wildlife biologist Roger Martin their communication calls are “the glue that holds populations together”.

An aerial view of construction at the Kaban wind farm.
Construction of the Kaban wind farm is already underway. Source: Steven Nowakowski

“Being able to hear low-frequency sound was an important adaption for them living in this sort of environment because low-frequency sound travels a long way,” he said.

“Building the wind farms could disrupt their breeding season.”

Because koalas are an endangered species and the sound from turbines could potentially travel up to 15km, he'd like to see more research into their impact before projects are approved.

"I realise the pressure to get green energy as quickly as possible, but before we rush in and put wind farms in to the area, we need to give it more consideration," he said.

"We can move the wind farms, but we can't move the koalas.

"These populations might be critically important for the long term survival of koalas in Australia, because the southern koalas are in for a really torrid time because of bushfires."

Music festival research indicates koalas disturbed by noise

Steven Philips from ecological consultancy Biolink agrees that low-frequency noise has the potential to displace koalas from habitat, particularly if it is sustained.

His research from 2016 found the episodic noise from a northern NSW music festival likely forced a koala population to relocate.

A koala in a tree in Far North Queensland.
Koalas in Far North Queensland live in sparse populations. Source: Rainforest Reserves

“What we know about koala calling frequencies and their response to other noises disturbances suggests the issue certainly warrants serious consideration,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“There's a whole field of science these days about the impact of noise on wildlife."

Government works rapidly to decarbonise economy

Development of major new wind farm projects comes as the Queensland government works rapidly to decarbonise and shift to renewables.

Conservation group Rainforest Reserves Australia is supportive of many of these projects but has raised concerns about one approved and three proposed wind farms which could destroy a combined 2377 hectares of wildlife habitat.

Large-scale projects which impact endangered species like koalas must be approved under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

An aerial view of the Kaban wind farm.
Construction of the Kaban wind farm could see 172 hectares of habitat removed. Source: Supplied

When asked whether the impact of noise, the environment department said project applicants “must consider all impacts the action will have, or is likely to have, on matters of national environmental significance”.

What the wind farm companies say about impact on koalas

Ark Energy, which has applied to build the Chalumbin wind farm, bordering the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and the Yourka Reserve said its project "is subject to rigorous and comprehensive environmental assessment" from state and federal governments".

It was the only wind farm developer to directly answer a question about the issue from Yahoo News Australia. It said the impact of noise on koalas "has not been raised as an issue of concern by assessment authorities for any wind farm that we are aware of".

Close up of a koala in a tree.
A koala was photographed on the site of Windlab's proposed wind farm in 2022. Source: Supplied

Neoen, which is currently constructing the Kaban wind farm outside of Ravenshoe, maintains there has been "no sightings or evidence of koalas" on the site itself.

One koala was documented nearby in 2022 and the company's EPBC application noted koalas "may" occur on its site.

Windlab which has proposed building a wind farm on the Upper Burdekin said its review of the impact of its project would be "evidence-based and scientifically verified".

Its CEO John Martin said in a statement that the company welcomes public discussion around the project and urged anyone with concerns to contact them.

"As a responsible operator, Windlab takes its environmental performance seriously," he said.

"We are committed to delivering a balanced, high-performing project that incorporates leading environmental and engagement practices and meets the expectations of our stakeholders."

Mount Fox Energy Park, which plans to build a wind farm inland from Tully declined to answer any questions from Yahoo News Australia directing it instead to the Commonwealth's EPBC application page.

This is the first of two articles that will examine the impact of wind farm developments on wildlife in Far North Queensland.

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