The author of a new report on the Ballina Shire’s koala population says design plans for a Pacific Highway upgrade in the area should be modified.
Doctor Steve Phillips says the chosen route bisects a regionally significant colony of up to 200 koalas.
He says at present there are only three underpasses planned for a critical five-kilometre stretch of road.
“What we’re doing in effect is reducing a five-kilometre frontage where animals can exchange genetic material, to probably a little more than 10 or 12 metres, which is the combined width of three underpasses,” Dr Phillips said.
“So you don’t have to be too much of a rocket scientist to figure out what a monumental squeeze that puts on populations, let alone keeping them separate and not allowing them to interbreed.”
KOALAS IN THE BALLINA SHIRE ARE UNDER THREAT FROM THE PROPOSED PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE AND ENVIRONMENT GROUPS ARE CALLING FOR THE ROUTE TO BE CHANGED.
A koala habitat study was presented to Ballina Council in December and Effie Ablett from the Ballina Environment Society said it “changes everything”.
The report, written be respected ecologist Dr Steve Phillips, identifies the Meerschaum Vale, Blackwall Range and Coolgardie koala population as “a key source population for breeding and dispersal” and suggests it should be listed as an “important population” under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act.
Dr Phillips’s research suggests the koalas in that region have been there since at least the beginning of the 20th century and they are the source population for the Byron coast and probably Lismore.
“There are a number of criteria they meet for being considered an ‘important population’ and since they have been listed as a threatened species, any impact on their long-term survival needs to be considered very seriously in that context.”
Ms Ablett said the colony wouldn’t survive the construction of a four-lane highway.
Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson said federal and state ministers needed to reconsider the route.
Ballina Mayor David Wright said the koala study had been forwarded to the Roads and Maritime Services general manager Bob Higgins, and they will meet next week.
“Council’s position is that koalas are paramount and everything must be done to protect them. But it will be one of the last sections to be built, so there is still time to investigate,” he said.
A meeting to discuss the campaign to save Ballina’s koalas will be held at Ballina RSL on February 18 at 7pm.