How we're helping Ballina’s koalas

A koala in care at Friends of the Koala Photo: © Stephen Wark

IFAW is proud to have partnered with Friends of the Koala to support them in their campaign to Save Ballina’s Koalas at risk from the Pacific Highway upgrade. At this critical time Lorraine Vass,  President of Friends of the Koala, explains what’s at stake.--JS

Time is running out for the Ballina 200.

While the Federal Minister’s approval conditions are keeping the bulldozers at bay, since Christmas, seven koalas have been killed or have died.

That’s the known number; clearly it could be higher.

The Pacific Highway accounted for 10 of the 61 known road mortalities that occurred in the Northern Rivers region during 2014. Most of these deaths were in the vicinity of road-works where the Highway is already undergoing upgrading, highlighting the vulnerability of koalas during construction. 

Road fatalities are only part of the problem; associated koala mortalities ensure that life-taking impacts become catastrophic. At the landscape level koalas are displaced. Vegetation clearance results in koalas spending more time on the ground and therefore increases their vulnerability to predation. There’s also the ever-present risk of disease; the stress of displacement often triggering clinical chlamydia and sometimes retrovirus.

Once upgrades are operational, koala road-kill will continue and the highway itself will be a barrier to koala movement. The features intended to ameliorate danger (i.e. the exclusion fencing, and even the underpasses and road bridges—the latter two in the short to medium term at least) disrupt movement. Either way, the koalas lose out.

Research into the design and implementation of environmentally sensitive roads and other linear infrastructure is ongoing, but well-informed ecological assessments at the outset minimise the chances of understating the importance of some localities for koalas. Ballina’s Blackwall Range is one of these.

Roads and Maritime Service’s preferred route for Section 10 of the Woolgoolga to Ballina Upgrade Project was decided a decade ago. While koala presence was documented, published scientific evidence of their significance was lacking.

Friends of the Koala’s licensed rescue and rehabilitation work can be heartbreaking even in the best of times. We won’t stand by and watch the destruction of Ballina’s koalas.

Lorraine is President of Friends of the Koala, north-eastern New South Wales’ lead koala conservation group. She has been campaigning to protect koalas from the impacts of Section 10 of the Pacific Highway Upgrade for over 10 years. 

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