Koala numbers have plummeted by a third in just 20 years. That is only three koala generations.
The koala is a globally recognised symbol of Australia and the second most recognised animal in the world after the Giant Panda, yet populations of our national icon are declining rapidly. Currently over 80% of koalas in NSW live outside of protected areas and there is no national conservation reserve set aside to ensure the species long-term survival. By contrast, China has established a national park covering one million hectares of bamboo forest to protect their Pandas.
Habitat loss and fragmentation in NSW, due to land clearing and urban development, has already resulted in koalas disappearing from 75% of their former range. Most of the remaining high quality koala habitat lies in State Forests and on private land where clearing of native vegetation and logging is leading to the removal of vital food and habitat trees. If nothing is done to protect and reconnect koala habitat, population declines will continue unabated and extinction is sadly inevitable.
Large and well-managed protected areas remain the single most effective tool to conserving biodiversity. The Great Koala National Park, which will form part of a strategic koala reserve plan, is the best chance for koalas to have a secure future in NSW.
This significant new national park would encompass 315,000 ha of public land in the Coffs Harbour region. This biodiversity hotspot includes two nationally recognised koala meta-populations, estimated to contain almost 20% of NSW’s remaining wild koalas. The Great Koala National Park would be made up of 175,000 ha of state forests added to 140,000 ha of existing protected areas.
It’s not just koalas that would benefit from a Great Koala National Park.
This spectacular landscape hosts lush World Heritage rainforests, some of the world’s most diverse towering eucalypt forests, and an array of threatened species, such as the Hastings River Mouse and Spotted-tailed Quoll.
Despite koalas having contributed billions of dollars to Australia’s economy through tourism, little of this money has been directed back into koala conservation. We are at serious risk of killing the golden goose through inaction and complacency.
To ensure that the GKNP delivers the best possible outcomes for regional employment and visitor opportunities, the Coffs Harbour – Bellingen Branch of the NPA and the Bellingen Environment Centre has commissioned the design of a koala visitor centre to complement the Great Koala National Park proposal.
The Koala Centre will be situated on a forested ridge directly accessible from an existing exit on the Pacific Highway just south of Coffs Harbour. The site is highly visible, scenic, and less than one minute from the highway. No parent will be able to resist calls from the back seat to stop and look at koalas!
A central breezeway will form the entrance to the centre and give access onto a koala information and media centre and to the café.
A forest viewing deck will allow for birdwatching and for indoor and outdoor eating in a natural setting. And maybe even the odd sighting of koalas!
The information and media centre will provide tourists with maps and walking routes of the Great Koala National Park and Bongil Bongil National Park, as well as offer advertising opportunities for local businesses.
The breezeway will also open onto an education and research centre, courtyard and outdoor classroom. A koala hospital with rehabilitation enclosures will be incorporated which will enable treatment of sick and injured animals, helping efforts to halt population declines. In addition, the hospital will providing the public with opportunities both to view koalas and learn about threats and efforts to conserve the species.
The courtyard will be used as a start point for walking tracks into Bongil Bongil National Park. The Koala Centre will therefore attract not only passing motorists looking for refreshments and a break, but also tourists and locals in the area who are keen to explore Bongil Bongil National Park.