PORT Stephens is blessed to be home to the iconic koala, but the species is in crisis with extinction set for 2050 unless drastic action is taken.
Koala Koalition EcoNetwork Port Stephens (KKEPS) was formed last year.
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The main aim of the organization is to protect and develop the koala population in Port Stephens; one strategy being to identify legislative/policy constraints and contradictions with actual protections, and to push for improvement.
The KKEPS has written a number of briefs against habitat destruction, as members of the group believe the cumulative impacts on our environment have been largely ignored, at all levels of government.
There are a significant number of existing and proposed hard rock quarries or extensions in our area, some of which require the removal of koala habitat, as well as many direct and indirect impacts on wildlife and residents.
KKEPS spokesperson Caitlin Spiller told News Of The Area: “When you consider the cumulative impacts of these quarries as well as the growth of sand mines and housing estates, already approved and proposed, it paints a very sad for our koalas.
“The saying ‘death by 1000 cuts’ has long been used of our endangered species and it has never been more evident here in Port Stephens where the koala population has declined as a direct result of approved culling developments at White.”
KKEPS consultant ecologist, Georgina Cutler, said: “The combined effect of several developments can have a significant effect on the wider regional environment, leading to habitat degradation and fragmentation of populations of key species. .
“Direct impacts from quarries and property developments include reduction in overall available habitat, noise pollution, reduction in air quality, while other indirect impacts from supporting infrastructure and roads may result in isolation of habitats and species.
“Highways and increased traffic can pose a significant threat to wildlife by influencing both animal movement and mortality risk.
“The need for ecological connectivity is fundamental to wildlife conservation, as it allows individuals to move between key habitat areas, ensuring the stability of regional populations.
“It is inevitable that every new development that requires clear cutting will have implications for local species populations, so it is fundamental to assess the impact from a regional perspective,” Ms Cutler added.
The Ministry of Planning, Industry and the Environment recently released the Cumulative Impact Assessment Guidelines for Significant State Projects (2021), which states that “Cumulative impacts are the result of additional, sustained and combined effects of human action and natural variations over time and can be both positive and negative”.
“They can be caused by the combined effects of a single project or multiple projects in an area, and by the accumulation of effects from past, current and future activities as they occur.
“These guidelines outline the new requirement for Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) at the strategic level and at the site-specific level of significant state projects.”
While the KKEPS welcomes this new requirement, many local rock, sand, and housing proposals have escaped its requirements — those that are not state-significant projects and those with environmental assessment requirements. issued before October 1, 2021, and for environmental impact statements received by March 31, 2022.
“For too long, site-specific mitigation measures have not taken into account past or future neighboring developments.
“Essential to cumulative effects management is the establishment of common goals and specific thresholds for acceptable impacts, coordinated among all relevant stakeholders.”
“Without this coordination and these assessments, it is difficult to demonstrate that while a single development may have a negligible impact, the accumulation of multiple developments in the same area may constitute a major impact,” Ms Cutler warned.
KKEPS welcomed the statement in the new guidelines which reads: “Cumulative impact management is a shared responsibility – involving all three levels of government working closely with industry and community – and is a factor major role in all government decisions”.
“KKEPS calls on Port Stephens Council to consider cumulative impacts in its planning instruments and to require CIAs at the local planning and consent level, before it is too late for koalas and other species threatened here,” urged Caitlin.
By Marianne Samson