The Great Koala National Park (GKNP) would see 175,000ha of publicly owned state forests added to existing protected areas to form a 315,000ha reserve in the Coffs Harbour hinterland. It would be the flagship of a suite of proposed koala reserves between Port Stephens and the Qld border.
The GKNP would be Australia’s first large national park dedicated to protecting our global treasure. It would protect koala habitat in five local government areas: Coffs Harbour, Clarence Valley, Bellingen, Nambucca and Kempsey.
The GKNP is defined by the estimated boundaries of two koala metapopulations of national significance. A metapopulation is a group of smaller populations that exchange individuals on a periodic basis, and we know that metapopulation dynamics are important in maintaining local koala populations.
Scientists have described the koala population in the Coffs Harbour region as stable to slowly declining, which is most likely due to the protection of high quality koala habitat in Bongil Bongil National Park that is acting as a source of koalas to the surrounding landscape—the metapopulation in action.
The Office of Environment and Heritage has described the area around Coffs Harbour as containing “koala habitats of national significance”.
This is a good start, as focusing conservation effort where it’s most likely to be successful makes sense. However, we need to act now! There are concerning reports from individuals and community groups that places where koalas were once found regularly are yielding fewer and fewer. We must protect vital habitat before it’s too late.
The GKNP incorporates all public land within the metapopulation boundaries. This is not to say that private land is not important, but reserving public land is more achievable in the short term. The GKNP would create an opportunity for the NSW government to work with adjacent landholders to encourage koala conservation on private land to complement the GKNP. This could be in the form of economic incentives which would offer an alternative source of income to manage land to benefit koalas.
Further development of ecotourism and a National Koala Park is a must, thanks to the incredible natural assets we have stretching from the coast up to Dorrigo.
– Dominic King, Mayor of Bellingen Shire
The Great Koala National Park would provide opportunities for small business establishment to run nature-based experiences, jobs in the service industries and jobs in forest management and restoration. Importantly, these jobs are sustainable, secure and satisfying.
Tourism is one of Australia’s biggest industries, and protected areas are a big driver of regional economies. Destination NSW figures show that nature-based tourism earned NSW almost $20 billion in 2017! It’s a massive industry, and the Great Koala National Park would ensure that the Coffs Coast is well placed to get a piece of the action. Speaking of koalas, the last estimate of the value of the koala to Australia was $3.2 billion per year. They’re just too valuable to lose!
Work is ongoing to undertake regional recreational planning for the Great Koala National Park. Recreation is now a really big industry – as well as being good for our health. For example, mountain bike riding in Rotorua, New Zealand, is now worth more to the town than the timber from the plantations that the mountain biking takes place in! With good planning, the Great Koala National Park will provide fantastic recreation opportunities for bushwalkers, bikers, four-wheel drivers and horse riders! Find out more
Designs have already been made for a gateway visitor centre to be situated on the Pacific Highway to house a koala hospital, café and education centre, to act as a launch point for koala spotting in Bongil Bongil National Park. The GKNP would offer opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure tourism—one of the fastest growing tourism sectors. And of course, with increased visitation comes opportunities for small businesses and individuals to take advantage of the new national park and direct employment through the National Parks and Wildlife Service.