Friday, 30 April 2010

Island koalas in the limelight

Protecting south-east Queensland’s dwindling koala population is becoming a hot topic. The issue has featured heavily in the media recently. FOSI has made a submission to the State Government calling for urgent action to protect the unique island koalas before it is too late.

North Stradbroke Island (NSI) is the home of a vigorous and healthy population of koalas. There is a low incidence of common koala diseases and research that has been carried out to date shows that they have been genetically isolated for about 8,000 years.

Stradbroke's koalas constitute the only naturally- occurring Island population in Australia. These koalas are unique and deserving of special consideration.Further research may reveal that these koalas hold the key to curing the mainland populations of various common diseases, as NSI’s koalas currently appear to be more robust.

North Stradbroke Island has a small (300-1000 individuals) but significant population of koalas that require the highest possible protection by state and local government. The population on Straddie faces significant threats from dog attack, vehicle strike, fire, habitat clearing and fragmentation, water reduction to food trees through water extraction from the aquifer and salt water inundation to habitat from sea level rise.

The first island-wide census was only conducted in 2008 so little is known about population size and locations prior to that date. Further, it’s not known if the numbers are increasing, decreasing or stable. However given the small population and the threats it faces, its survival chances must be maximized in every way possible.

Mining has caused substantial destruction of koala habitat on the Island. Unfortuately this destruction is continuing. The Government has a unique opportunity to protect and preserve the Island (as the Premier has indicated she wishes to do – in a pre-election letter to Island residents in March 09). Around 20 mining leases have expired or will expire soon. Under s.286A of the Mineral Resources Act, the government can refuse to renew these leases without compensation being payable to the Miner. North Stradbroke Island should be made a Priority Koala Management Area because of the significance of the population, the threats it faces and its small population size.