Danielle Ryan and James Sherwood, Conservation Campaigners
Several NPA conservation campaigns are at a critical stage in the lead up to the 2023 State Election. They include our ongoing campaigns to:
- Protect Kosciuszko National Park from inappropriate development;
- Overturn the NSW Government’s deeply flawed Cumberland Conservation Strategy;
- Ensure that the Gardens of Stone become a true conservation reserve rather than a theme park;
- Establish the Great Koala National Park near Coffs Harbour;
- Make important additions to the existing reserves around Jervis Bay;
- End logging in all NSW public native forests;
- Secure a network of fully conserved, representative, adequate and secure marine protected areas along our coasts;
- Oppose high impact, narrow and commercially driven visitor facilities in parks;
- Hold the NSW government to account for the management of illegal track and trail construction in Protected Areas; and
- Lead the way towards managing at least 30% of NSW land and seas for biodiversity purposes by 2030.
The future of all of these campaigns will be significantly affected by the outcome of the State Election. No conceivable electoral outcome will deliver everything that NPA is seeking to achieve through our campaigns, but the alternative outcomes will require different strategies and tactics, depending on the policy stance of whoever forms government.
This update focuses on two of the more stark differences in policy stance between the two major parties, namely the Great Koala National Park (GKNP) and the future of our Marine Protected Areas.
The Great Koala National Park
NPA Coffs Harbour Branch’s Conservation Officer Ashley Love, is widely acknowledged as the creator of the GKNP proposal. Back in 2015, he and NPA’s Senior Ecologist Dr Oisín Sweeney prepared a ‘Blueprint for a Comprehensive Reserve System for Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) on the North Coast of New South Wales’.
The report proposed 10 new conservation reserves with the ambitious goal of protecting almost 50% of NSW’s koalas. The centrepiece of their proposal would protect two nationally significant metapopulations on the Mid North Coast, in what was to become the GKNP.
Ashley recalls that when the GKNP proposal was first put forward in September 2014, it was initially not widely known.
“There was also some hesitation due to Australia’s dismal record of dealing with threatened species,” said Love.
“While Australia has been dawdling on effective solutions to protect charismatic fauna, all along overseas models for managing charismatic fauna have been an inspiration, in particular, in relation to the Giant Panda in China.”
The GKNP proposal was a game-changer, shifting the narrative in this space, as the GKNP is now widely debated and discussed in the media and within political circles. The proposal rose to prominence on the 29 October 2022 at the ‘NSW State Koala Conference: The Vanishing’ in Coffs Harbour, a conference organised by many concerned groups including NPA NSW, where experts and political representatives gathered to discuss serious solutions to prevent NSW’s wildlife icon from disappearing forever.
“I feel more confident now as community support has grown. The need for the park has become clearer,” said Love.
Following on from the koala conference, NSW Labor announced that the GKNP will be a ‘first priority’ for government if elected. Unfortunately, when that policy was reiterated in January 2023 it drew a firm rejection of the proposal by the NSW Premier. This is despite suggestions that, under former Environment Minister Matt Kean, the current government was contemplating their own version of a GKNP.
“The momentum is at a peak,” said Love. “The 2019-20 fires reinforce the urgent need for the park to ensure the survival of the species.”
Today, the NPA state office is working with Love again to strengthen the case for NPA NSW’s full Great Koala National Park proposal.
Although momentum is building to secure large areas of public native forests primarily for the benefit of NSW’s wildlife icon, the koala, NPA is gravely concerned that 10% of the proposed Great Koala National Park is due to be logged over the next year. In response we are calling for an immediate moratorium on logging in the GKNP. Forestry Corporation’s published plans reveal that:
- 10,000 hectares of koala habitat in the GKNP is being actively logged or is approved to be logged, and
- A further 20,000 hectares is planned or proposed for logging on the Forestry Corporation plan portal (as of 22.12.2022).
Marine sanctuaries — the power of community and unity in shifting mainstream narratives
We are currently seeing a seismic shift in the marine space, seeing the political narrative shift from winding back protections to marine parks towards a ‘no net loss’ and moving towards a serious conversation on 30×30 as we gear up to reviews of all five mainland marine parks over the next two years.
NPA NSW and other community groups are gearing up for some ‘beach actions’ in March 2023 to help restore lost marine sanctuary areas and to raise awareness about the need to create new ones, including a Marine Park for Sydney.
These actions come on the back of the successful Parsley Bay beach action in November 2022, where five politicians and political candidates of various persuasions attended a panel discussion where they shared their support for NSW’s marine sanctuaries and creating a Sydney Marine Park.
Over the past year, NPA NSW has played a leading role, alongside the Australian Marine Conservation Society, in energising the NSW coastal community on the quest to increase sanctuary protection. NPA has been working closely with representatives of community groups, such as Iain Watt, Scientific Panel representative, Marine Parks Association (Port Stephens). Watt says this work is important because our oceans have been the receptacle for our waste, and have suffered unbridled exploitation with unclear long-term outcomes, yet they are the drivers of all natural processes on the planet.
“We need to start taking their conservation seriously, starting with education combined with effective, enforced no take sanctuary zones,” said Mr Watt.
“No more motherhood statements and pretty pictures. We need an effective management plan for the NSW marine parks that will safely take them into the future and provide for future generations.
“No Take means No Take — it does not mean catch and release. Department of Primary Industry data (which is pretty sketchy) shows that for every 10 fish caught and released (of all species recorded), on average, between 2-4 of them will die. And that is probably only the tip of the iceberg.”
Due to NPA’s efforts, we are pleased to announce the NSW Government has responded to community demands to shelve the disastrous Draft Marine Park Management Plan 2021 for our five mainland marine parks, which set a blueprint for managing our marine parks for their resource values, rather than conservation values as set out under the Marine Estate Management Act 2012.
In response to the news, University of Technology Professor of Marine Ecology, David Booth, says “NSW needs a well-managed marine estate featuring substantial and enforced no-take sanctuaries—a fresh start in this process is very welcome!”
“Our oceans are at a critical turning point right now. A new management plan for NSW coastal seas needs to feature strongest ocean protection so that future generations can benefit.”
This is also welcome news to the communities of Batemans Bay Marine Park and the Great Lakes Port Stephens Marine Park, which could have seen more sanctuary areas opened to fishing under the guidance of the 2021 draft plan. Six sanctuaries are currently open to illegal fishing in the Batemans Marine Park.
Dane Wilmot, President of the Nature Coast Marine Group (Narooma), has expressed concern for community stakeholders like his group who have been caught up in an extremely drawn out, exhausting and ineffective review process that has resulted in no outcome for the communities’ affected. NPA NSW supports his group’s efforts to restore lost sanctuaries in the Batemans’ region.
NPA NSW will continue to work closely with local groups and scientists, along with dozens of other stakeholders in preparation for the review of all five mainland marine parks, which must be reviewed within two years.