Earlier this year, the devastating bushfires that ravaged Australia left the country's koala population at serious risk, with reports stating that up to 30 per cent of the species that had been living in New South Wales had perished.
Now, the Australian government has approved plans to have more than 50 hectares of habitats in the New South Wales town of Port Stephens bulldozed, following federal environment minister Sussan Ley approving the expansion of a quarry.
The minister, whose decision follows the government placing the koala on an official endangered listing, said on October 27, the department's assessment found the development would "not rob the area of critical koala habitat."
She added that her department found "as few as one or two koalas" present in the proposed construction area, indicating that the clearing would not affect the "small pockets" where koalas had been spotted by residents.
Conservationists have described the decision as "heartbreaking" after the state's devastating bushfires that saw thousands of the native animal killed.
The approval was, however, subject to strict conditions, Ley said, including a requirement that the developer, Hanson Construction Materials, establishes a new koala habitat near the site.
According to the approval conditions, this would involve replanting 74 hectares to the south of the site with trees suitable for koalas.
An NSW parliamentary inquiry, published earlier this year, found koalas would be extinct in the state by 2050 unless governments take urgent action to address habitat loss.
The year-long inquiry found habitat loss remains the biggest threat to the species' survival and that continuous logging and habitat clearing has been ongoing, despite the toll it's taking.
“Given the scale of loss as a result of the fires to many significant local populations, the committee believes the koala will become extinct in New South Wales well before 2050 and that urgent government intervention is required to protect their habitat and address all other threats to their ongoing survival,” the report said.
Ever since news of the possible destruction of the Port Stephens habitats, residents have run a campaign that has garnered the attention of celebrities including Magda Szubanski, Celeste Barber and Olivia Newton-John, urging the government to reject the development.
Chantal Parslow Redman, the Co-Campaign Manager of Save Port Stephens Koalas, said the government had chosen “rocks over koalas.”
“The minister’s statement says this area didn’t burn—that’s the whole point. This is koala habitat,” Parslow Redman said. “This just shows that nothing will stop this government from destroying koala habitat.
“It’s a heartbreaking decision," she added.
How To Help:
Donate to Save Port Stephens Koalas
Adopt a tree to help the koala population. Trees can be purchased through a number of companies including Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, the Australian Koala Foundation and WWF Australia.