In 2015, the State Government came up with its koala population modelling for SEQ. Based on visual surveys of 26 sites across the Noosa Shire, using transects across 1,535 hectares, they were able to locate just seven koalas.
Since that time, a range of different techniques have been employed to better determine both the numbers and the health of our local koalas. Koala poo sniffing dogs have been used to help map habitat. The poo itself has been analysed to check the health of the animals and also to determine genetic diversity of the local population. And, most recently, heat-sensitive drone cameras have been employed: by far the most accurate and sophisticated method ever developed to spot koalas. What we are learning from all this koala-focussed attention is quite surprising.
But before I outline the results, let me briefly describe the ground-breaking Yurol-Ringtail Forest Project currently underway. It’s the most significant environmental protection project in Noosa for 20 years. The initiative came from Michael Gloster of the Noosa Parks Association. He envisaged a plan to remove plantation forests in our hinterland and have those areas reafforested and then converted to national park. The aim was to improve local biodiversity, provide more habitat for koala conservation, generate a wildlife corridor connecting Cooloola with the Noosa hinterland, and, if possible, provide opportunities for the Traditional Owners of the land, the Kabi Kabi people. All of this is now being achieved and much more.
The initial deal, which I am pleased to have helped facilitate, involved an agreement by HQ Plantations to remove their hardwood and pine plantations and to relinquish their long-term harvest rights. That involved a three-way buy-out arrangement between Noosa Parks Association, Noosa Council and the Queensland Government. Can you imagine how difficult it was to get all those ducks to line up? Hats off to former Noosa Council CEO Brett de Chastel for his efforts brokering that arrangement.
To cut a long story very short, the outcome will be 2,400 hectares of remnant forest plus revegetated land gradually becoming part of the protected estate. Some of the land has already been gazetted as national park, and much of the timber harvesting has been completed, well ahead of schedule. A grant from The Body Shop UK helped kick start the revegetation work. Kabi Kabi leaders have been consulted and involved from the outset. Noosa and District Landcare have been kept busy. Other active supporters have included our local wildlife rescuers, koala activists and researchers. And now Greenfleet are using the revegetation for carbon offsets, thus removing future costs of the revegetation work that would otherwise have been funded by NPA and Council.
Okay, so back to those iconic critters. Recent drone surveys over half a dozen sample areas within the Yurol and Ringtail Forests have revealed many more koalas than anyone anticipated. 34 koalas were established over approximately 150 hectares of remnant vegetation, amounting to 0.22 koalas per hectare. Those results surprised everyone, particularly the discovery of plentiful koalas in dense wet sclerophyll forests along creek lines.
Extrapolated out, the figures suggest that there are just under 300 koalas currently in the forested parts of Yurol and Ringtail, and once all the revegetation work is complete, the total jumps to well over 500 koalas being supported within the 2,400-hectare corridor.
Koala rescuers have noticed a steep increase in callouts to local koalas in the past couple of years, which suggests that numbers are holding, if not actually increasing, across the shire. And if one extrapolates the density discovered in Yurol and Ringtail to other known koala habitat in Noosa, we are talking about potentially thousands of koalas already surviving, reproducing, and living the Noosa dream. Of course, there remain significant threats, including disease, wild dogs, car strikes and bushfire. But both the survey pooches and the drone efforts reveal that Noosa is already a stronghold for koalas. In part that is thanks to 60 years of logistical effort by Noosa Parks Association that has resulted in 30 percent of the shire in some form of protected estate.
The Yurol/Ringtail Project is a true landmark cooperative effort by two levels of government, a community environment group, and a private company with a remarkable appreciation of their civic duty. Importantly, the deal is not seeking simply to protect existing habitat, but also to generate new natural habitat. The outcome will benefit untold numbers of vertebrate, invertebrate and plant species.
If we are serious about ensuring a future for humanity, then we need to be not only protecting the fragments of land we haven’t stuffed up, but also reinstating habitat. Meanwhile, I predict that Noosa will become a focus for future koala conservation, animal research and land management, with expert guidance from our Traditional Owners. They will have the opportunity to use our region to teach future generations how to care for country.