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.