Preparation for a koala hospital and ecotourism facility has begun with preliminary site works likely within a month.
Port Stephens Council endorsed plans for the One Mile facility last Tuesday after 18 months of discussions with animal welfare group Port Stephens Koalas.
“We’ve been keen for council to take this step and endorse the plans because we need to construct certain facilities soon,” Port Stephens Koalas project manager Ron Land said.
The council forecasts completion of the facility in the March 2018 quarter.
Mr Land said Port Stephens Koalas was already well progressed with recruitment for a hospital manager who will have some input as to the finer detail of the plans.
And many more volunteers will also be needed to assist with rehabilitation.
Mr Land said five fenced enclosures, on a hillside adjacent to campsites at Treescape, will be the first infrastructure on site to facilitate the rehabilitation of injured koalas.
“These will be vital to help us train volunteers,” he said.
Outwardly, these pens will look like a suburban backyard fence, with two pens measuring 10 square metres each with the rest six sq. m.
Each will contain a gunya – rudimentary shelters – some of which will have trees.
Mr Land said these structures would remain a functional part of the hospital once built.
“I would like to see a start within four weeks,” he said.
“There is so much to do and these structures are vital to help train people.Training even a support carer takes four to five months and to train a senior carer can take two years.”
Expressions of interest from potential volunteers is expected within months if not weeks.
“I would like to see 35 to 40 qualified carers on site by March 2018,” Mr Land said.
“When we reach an agreement with council on a construction start date we’ll be taking inquiries from people who wish to be involved.”
The $3 million plans endorsed at council last Tuesday included funding models with applications already lodged with state and federal governments for grants. Three buildings will form the core of the facility on the crown lands site, including hospital and intensive care rooms, accommodation for veterinary carers and garages for equipment.
“Koalas and their protection is a council priority,” the council’s business development manager of holiday parks Rebecca Smith said.
“This facility is only one part of council’s koala strategy but in saying that the implications of this facility for the region in terms of preservation and tourism is enormous.”
Ms Smith said like whale migration, koalas would entice many people to visit Port Stephens.
“These plans are bigger than just Treescape, they put the whole region on the ecotourism map, here and internationally,” she said.
“The ecotourism benefits are great as will be the environmental benefits, lasting long into the future.”