Great Ocean Road Koala Habitat Rescue

Koalas face a number of conservation challenges which vary dramatically across their range. In this region, koalas are threatened by habitat declines, particularly in manna gum woodlands and there are very real fears for the welfare of koalas as their food trees die.

Our Wild Vision is woodland effectively managed across private and public land to create a sustainable future habitat for koalas and other wildlife in the Otways and beyond.

The Problem

The Great Ocean Road’s coastal woodlands are in crisis and urgent action is needed to protect them.

Koala over-browsing has caused drastic decline of woodland health and extent. In some areas the dieback is so severe that it has caused entire canopy death and koalas too are suffering. Habitats are changing beyond recognition, as woodland is replaced by invasive species. The ecosystem is further threatened by the absence of low intensity fires, which is a vital component of many Australian woodlands. The combined result is that more than 70% of the Manna Gum community has been lost over the past 20 years.
The decline of the Manna Gums has been accelerating and without intervention we will lose this unique and rare habitat type, along with the koalas and the many other plants and animals that rely on it.


The Solution

With no time to waste, we have embarked on creating the woodlands of the future by planting over 93,000 tree seedlings over the last few years, across 80Ha of affected woodland areas at Cape Otway.

It is vital to protect young or ailing trees from over-browsing and to shield mature seed trees for future revegetation efforts. We are trialling large-scale methods to minimise koala browsing on selected trees. Through wider application of these techniques, woodland areas can be effectively managed, allowing koalas access to healthy trees, while ensuring protection where necessary. We have shown that these techniques are successful – they enable canopy recovery. Now we need to apply them across wider areas.
Careful research of this woodland ecosystem will be vital as low intensity prescribed burns are reintroduced into the landscape, allowing the CEC to identify an optimal fire regime. Critical canopy species, fire dependant germinators and floral and faunal diversity will be enhanced, while invasive species will be reduced. We have pioneered mosaic burning with the CFA over the last two years, have measured the diversity of herbs and native grasses and noted natural germination of Manna Gums. This is a positive start for an ambitious research program which will be critical for managing our remnant vegetation and the newly planted woodland to achieve a critical mass of protected habitat.
We can’t do this without your help though. We desperately require funding in order to develop this program and save koalas.

How you can get involved

You can assist our Conservation & Research Team in annual surveys to monitor the koala population and the habitat condition, join in with habitat restoration efforts like the Big Otway Tree Plant and share your ideas through events like The Manna Gum Challenge. Learn more about volunteering.

When possible, land is purchased and kept in trust to secure long term habitat security for koalas. We welcome you to join us in creating this legacy – please contact us for more details on larger projects.

Further Research:

Understanding the koala microbiome: unlocking the secrets of koala health and dietary specialisation, and successful husbandry and translocation (ARC Linkage Project)

Koalas, like most herbivores, don’t dine alone. Inside their guts live microbes that help to digest their food, deal with eucalyptus toxins and affect their ability to respond to disease. We will investigate how microbes differ among koala populations and diets and ask whether mismatches between what koalas eat and their microbes causes problems. These findings will be crucial to long term conservation management of koala populations.
Investigators: Dr B D Moore, Prof WJ Foley, Prof P Hugenholz, Prof T Sicheritz-Ponten, Prof B L Moeller, Dr J Hansen, Dr DH Lunney, Dr JH Pascoe.
Lead organisation: The University of Western Sydney
Partner organisations: Evolva Biotech A/S, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Conservation Ecology Centre

Manna Gum Recruitment, Germination and Seedling Establishment 

We have established experiments to investigate the effectiveness of a range of techniques to encourage the recruitment of manna gums in declining manna gum woodlands on Cape Otway. These experiments will isolate the effect of soil carbon, soil disturbance, browsing, fire and vegetation complexity on the success manna gum germination, seedling establishment and survival. Outcomes will help guide future revegetation efforts.
Project partners: Conservation Ecology Centre, Southern Otway Landcare Network

Manna Gum Leaf Analysis

We are investigating the chemical composition of leaves from manna gums on Cape Otway. Sampling leaves from trees of differing age class and health status assists in understanding their nutritional qualities to koalas and their palatability along the tree decline gradient. This project may provide insight into the browsing ecology of the local koala population.
Project partners: Conservation Ecology Centre, The University of Western Sydney

Monitoring Koalas and Their Habitat

Conserving koalas and their habitat is currently a management priority for Parks Victoria, but very little is known about the local koala population. With thanks to a Healthy Parks, Healthy People grant the CEC is carrying out long term surveys to assess population size and the condition of the habitat.  The Otways contains mixed habitat and more than one preferred koala food tree species, so this site provides a novel opportunity to gain insights into why some preferred koala food trees are in decline and to assess the determining factors behind local koala food tree selection.
Project partners: Conservation Ecology Centre, Parks Victoria


Australian Geographic meets our koalas

Learn more about koalas in this video as Sorrel Wilby from Australian Geographic visits the Conservation Ecology Centre.