Almost 34,000 people, many from around the world, have signed a petition calling on Tweed Shire Council to revegetate a sportsfield south of Pottsville surrounded by koala habitat and corridors.
The petition, which used social media to attract interest in the Black Rocks sportsfield issue, was presented to council this week by a organisers who later staged a brief rally outside council chambers.
Koala campaigner and petition author Menkit Prince said recent moves by council to further develop the sports field with a Men’s Shed could ‘drive the last nail in the coffin’ of the koalas around Black Rocks, which have been dwindling in numbers in the past few years.
‘It’s the midnight hour for these koalas. They need peace and quiet to recover from the Xmas 2014 fire which severely damaged over 200 hectares of koala habitat in the Pottsville Wetlands and may have killed between 30-60 per cent of their population’, Ms Prince told Echonetdaily.
The petition was addressed to Cr Barry Longland, who spearheaded the Men’s Shed approval, calling for revegetation of the field and enclavement (permanent locking of the koala protection gates).
The petition, signed by 33,955 people from 73 countries, also called for a rescission motion to build the men’s shed on the site and the removal of the koala protection gates at its entrance.
Ms Prince said the support for the petition surprised and pleased her.
‘It was a collaborative effort by a team of people going to markets in all kinds of weather, extreme heat, pelting rain and wind, but well worth it,’ she said.
‘Four of the six councillors seem to think that koala lovers are in the minority. This petition proves the opposite.’
She said the when circulating the petition and talking to Tweed locals about the issue very few, or less than three per cent, did not want to sign, while ‘the remainder strongly supported signing it.
‘This means 97 per cent of the Tweed electorate and ratepayers want coastal koalas protected. Tweed Shire council does not have a mandate from the people to continue neglecting Black Rocks koalas,’ Ms Prince said.
Longtime Black Rocks koala campaigner Dave Norris told Echonetdaily that in the past two years, seven koalas from the Black Rocks area had either been euthanased, found dead or photographed with symptoms due to stress-related diseasechlamydia.
Mr Norris, the president of the Threatened Species Conservation Society, said that only one young koala named Lucia was captured, treated and returned to the wild.
‘Evidence suggests that Black Rocks koalas are suffering from chlamydia due to stress from human disturbance, especially from loud noises near their habitat,’ he said.
‘We have reported over 300 incidences of koala-impactive activities to council with no effective remedial action being taken.
‘Disturbances include paramotoring, low-flying helicopters, petrol-fuelled model aeroplanes, trail bikes, council mowing and brushcutting, off-leash dogs including dangerous breeds, loud alchohol-fuelled parties, shooting etc. This can’t go on, it must be stopped now.’
Ms Prince said that a recent study by koala expert Dr Steve Phillips showed that ‘loud noise causes aversive behaviour in koalas and that there is a perceived link between elevated stress levels and the onset of chlamydiosis’.
‘A koala will travel 725 metres from the source of loud music at a festival. Why isn’t Tweed shire council at least following the precautionary approach if these studies are not conclusive enough for them?’
She said that Dr Phillips and three other ecologists had recommended revegetation and enclavement ‘to save this critically important colony of koalas’.
‘Koalas are a national treasure and a global icon and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect them,’ she said.
Ms Prince said that Cr Longland had been singled out because of his push for the Men’s Shed and gates despite being voted in on an environmental platform’.
‘Most importantly he holds the balance of power in council between two opposing factions both of whom will support him if he votes with them,’ she said.
She said the National Party-aligned councillors Warren Polglase, Carolyn Byrne and Phil Youngblutt also had a history of voting against recommended protection for Black Rocks koalas.