A koala sanctuary for research and tourist education could be open come December after a $3 million commitment to the project from the state government on Monday.
The plans for the One Mile holiday park site will include facilities for scientists and post graduate students to gather information about the species to help sustain the population.
It will also include a clinic for treatment of koalas in rehabilitation as well as the facilities for tourists to observe and learn about koalas from a safe distance.
Port Stephens Koalas president Carmel Northwood said it was crucial to have the facility but not just from a treatment perspective.
“For 30 years we’ve been treating one koala at a time, patching them up, and putting them back in the bush,” she said.
“Despite all our efforts we haven’t been able to stop the decline in population so it’s really been death by a thousand cuts.
“We hope that through this facility we can bring a lot more people on side to help us fight to retain their habitat because a sanctuary is pointless if there are no trees.”
The council and conservation volunteers applied for the $3 million in October 2017, through the Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund. In the meantime volunteers established four rehabilitation pens with a $124,000 Community Building Partnership grant from Port Stephens MP Kate Washington.
While news of the funds broke on Sunday it was Port Stephens Duty MLC Catherine Cusack who made the announcement at Treescape Holiday Park on Monday.
“The proposal put together by the volunteers and the commitment of council is to be applauded and they have the best and broadest skills base anywhere to operate it,” she said.
“While it is a lot of money it was a very visionary plan. There’s been no other council on the east coast that’s come up with a plan like it and had the full backing of the community, like they have.”
The mayor Ryan Palmer said the funds were most welcome, flowing from Sunday’s $44.7 million NSW Koala Strategy announcement.
“Walking in today and talking to Carmel, seeing tears in her eyes, really brings home the importance of this facility,” he said.
“This will be a shining light for koala preservation in NSW particularly with the package announced yesterday by the NSW Government. It will certainly help what is a vulnerable species in NSW.”
The council’s group manager of corporate services Carmel Foster said the council had begun work on the development application three months ago with a forward-allocation of $120,000.
“The timing of this announcement is really good as we’ve been working really hard on this and we’re getting ready to have the DA lodged by the end of the month,” she said.
“We’ll have a few things to complete concurrently that will include going to tender for construction but once the DA is lodged we can talk to Crown Lands about extending the site lease beyond 2029.”
The project has been planned in three stages, with a desire to complete the clinic, tourist centre and car park in the first stage. The first stage will also include an upgrade to the holiday park with seven ‘glamping tents’.
“We would like to be open for the peak season at the end of the year but it’s dependent on a few things like the construction tender, the weather and other factors, but that’s what we’re aiming for.”