Tweed’s koala protection campaigners have welcomed a move to nominate the shire’s dwindling marsupials as an endangered population under state law.
Tweed Shire councillors on Tuesday unanimously backed a staff recommendation for the nomination of the shire’s few remaining koala colonies, totalling around 144 animals, to the NSW Scientific Committee established under the Threatened Species Conservation (TSC) Act 1995.
The Tweed/Brunswick Coast koala endangered-population nomination covers both Tweed shire and northern Byron shire where koalas have been found in a recent habitat study to be largely absent.
The koala is currently listed as a vulnerable species in NSW under the TSC Act and earlier this month was listed as vulnerable within NSW, ACT and Queensland under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Endangered populations are individual populations or pockets of species facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW.
Council staff say examples of currently listed endangered populations include the long-nosed potoroo at Cobaki in the north of the Tweed, the emu population in the NSW north coast bioregion and Port Stephens area, the Little Penguin in the Manly Point area and the Gang-Gang Cockatoo population in the Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai areas.
Team Koala president Jenny Hayes, who greeted the decision with applause in the public gallery, said it was ‘wonderful recognition’ of what the Tweed community had been fighting for.
’They’re listening now to what we’ve been saying for years, so it’s a win for all the hard-working campaigners,’ Ms Hayes told Echonetdaily.
She said the recent federal listing of the koala as vulnerable in NSW and the $2 million in federal funding for local koala corridors were encouraging, but there was still more work to be done to save the iconic animal from extinction on the Tweed.
The scientific committee, made up of scientists appointed by the environment minister, determines whether a particular species, population or ecological community is included or omitted from the list of threatened species.
Council staff say the Tweed-Brunswick coast koala population meets the criteria set down for listing after a study last year found the situation for koalas was ‘more dire than previously thought’ and koalas were contracting in overall range and were ‘unlikely to have a secure future without determined management’.
Staff said the shire’s estimated population of 144 koalas was ‘thought to infer that the population size of the Tweed Coast study-area koalas may already be below the minimum viable population size required to sustain long-term population survival’.
‘There is a need to consider the localised extinction of koalas to be a foreseeable event within the next two to three decades, sooner if those factors currently impacting on the population such as fire and unsustainable levels of incidental mortality are not addressed.’