A rally gathered on Manly seafront for the national Save the Koala Day led to a camp out at Manly MP James Griffin’s office on Friday, 30 September 2022.
Approximately 50 people, many carrying placards, endured torrential rain to hear several representatives from environmental and animal welfare groups lament the severe decline in koalas throughout NSW.
Afterwards, they visited the office of Manly MP James Griffin, also the NSW Environment Minister, to lobby him for greater protection of koalas.
The speakers, including Julia Walsh (chair of Save Manly Dam Catchment), Susan Sorensen (leader of Animal Justice Party Northern Beaches), Nicola Beynon (Humane Society International head of campaigns), Dorothee Babeck (Bob Brown Foundation campaign organiser) and Matt Stellino (Animal Justice Party and City of Campbelltown councillor), urged restraint on urban development in areas adjoined by koala habitat, along with immediate investment in the iconic marsupial’s conservation.
“Today is national Save the Koala Day,” Ms Sorensen announced, “and we have joined forces with a powerful alliance of advocates to demand action from Environment Minister James Griffin to do his job, to save koalas from extinction by ending native forest logging and land clearing…
“MP Griffin isn’t even protecting the remaining bushland we have here in our own beautiful electorate of Manly,” she claimed. “We’d love to have an Environment Minister who actually protects the environment, and our most vulnerable species. It’s time for James Griffin to step up.”
Ms Walsh, in turn, criticised the NSW Government’s construction of the Northern Beaches Tunnel, which she said will sever an ‘environmental corridor’ that enables all wildlife to move freely without being constrained within small islands of forest surrounded by suburbia.
“[Former NSW Premier] Mike Baird’s Northern Beaches Hospital severed the wildlife corridor from the north to the south. James Griffin’s [Beaches Link] harbour tunnel project will sever the wildlife corridor from the east to the west. And this is just one local example of what’s being replicated across the state… We are at a tipping point and James Griffin is at the helm..”
Mr Stellino described a controversial 5000-home development near Campbelltown, overseen by property and infrastructure giant Lendlease, which has prompted community concerns about threatened koalas. “There is, unfortunately,” he alleged, “an uncomfortable alliance between developers and the state government.”
After the speeches, the rally, accompanied by percussionists from Drum Rebellion, proceeded to the James Griffin’s office at 2/2 Wentworth St in the hope he would meet with them to discuss the seriousness of the koala’s decline.
However, a source told Manly Observer, “He certainly didn’t come out and meet with us but everyone drummed and chanted for a long time!”
Editor’s Note: We had not checked whether he was in the office at the time of the demonstration. Mr Griffin’s office has since told us the minister was not present at the time and had in fact travelled to the NSW South Coast to attend a ceremony where Ben Boyd National Park had been renamed Beowa National Park.
Koalas in terminal decline
Koalas are genuinely in trouble throughout the state. A June 2020 report by the NSW Government, Koala Populations and Habitats in NSW, found that “the fragmentation and loss of habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations in New South Wales.”
The report added, “without urgent government intervention to protect habitat and address all other threats, the koala will become extinct in New South Wales before 2050.”
On 11 February 2022, koalas in eastern Australia were re-categorised from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ for the first time due to a significant decline in their numbers, attributable to disease, climate change, lost habitat and a variety of other existential threats (timber logging, human culling, torrential rains/flooding, feral cats predation, car strikes).
Nationwide, it is estimated that there are fewer than 100,000 koalas left in the wild, perhaps less than half that number.
The catastrophic 2019-20 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires contributed significantly to the sharp decline in koalas. According to research by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), among the “143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 181 million birds, and 51 million frogs” that were incinerated by the wildfires, more than 60,000 koalas across Australia were burned alive or adversely affected.
The Apocalyptic fires also burned between 24,300,000 to 33,800,000 hectares of bushland – much of it prime koala habitat.
“The fires impacted more than 41,000 koalas on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, more than 11,000 in Victoria, nearly 8,000 in NSW, and nearly 900 in Queensland,” the WWF research recorded.
“Impacts include death, injury, trauma, smoke inhalation, heat stress, dehydration, loss of habitat, reduced food supply, increased predation risk, and conflict with other animals after fleeing to unburnt forest…”
NSW Koala Strategy
The Manly rally came a day after Mr Griffin announced a ‘habitat boost’ in the Northern Rivers region (encompassing the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed Rivers in north-eastern NSW) to restore 200 hectares of koala habitat in ‘targeted conservation actions’.
Private landholders there are being encouraged to plant 250,000 tree seedlings, supported by the NSW Koala Strategy, which is backed by a $190 million budget to ‘secure more habitat, support community conservation, address threats to koala safety and health, and utilise science and research to build knowledge.’
“We know that more than 50 per cent of koala habitat is on private land in NSW, which is why private landholders are a big part of the solution when it comes to conserving and protecting koalas,” Mr Griffin said.
“Through the Koala Friendly Carbon Farming Project, we’re helping landholders plant hundreds of thousands of koala food and shelter trees to restore koala habitat and create corridors for them to move safely through areas.
“Landholders will be able to diversify their income through carbon farming, while creating new habitat for koalas and other native species on their properties.”
Mr Stellino was sceptical of the tree planting initiative. “If the state government is happy to splash money on seedlings that won’t serve koalas for another 30 years, why can’t that money be invested in developing the roads and putting in underpasses that koalas need now [to avoid dangerous traffic and move freely between forested areas]?”
Mr Griffin asserted, “This is part of our NSW Koala Strategy, which delivers the biggest commitment by any government to a single species in Australia, and it will help us reach our target of doubling the number of koalas in NSW by 2050.”
The NSW Government acknowledged in its June 2020 report that “the NSW Koala Strategy falls short of the NSW Chief Scientist’s recommendation of a whole-of-government koala strategy with the objective of stabilising and then increasing koala numbers.”