Moorabool Landcare to assist in bridging koala data gaps

(Australian Koala Foundation)

By Oliver Lees

The Moorabool Catchment Landcare Group (MCLG) will take part in a state-of-the-art data collection project, to help improve data monitoring of Victoria’s koala population.

Working in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology and the CSIRO, MCLG will assist teams in using infrared drone surveys across more than 100 hectares of the Moorabool shire.

On the land of the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, the research teams will work in transects covering the Bostock Reservoir near Ballan. The data will then be recorded and processed by machine learning technology.

The project is announced following a February 12 decision from the federal government to update the conservation status of koalas in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’.

MCLG landcare co-ordinator Jackson Cass said where previously koala data monitoring in the area was purely anecdotal, this research effort will paint a clearer picture of the animal’s population density.

“Anecdotally in Moorabool [the koala population] has been declining in past decades, that’s what’s via word of mouth from farmers and landholders who don’t see or hear them as much,” Mr Cass said.

“Victoria not receiving an endangered species listing for koalas does not necessarily mean they are not endangered, there is an immense lack of data.

“That’s what this project is wanting to address. It’s really hard to look at the population trajectory when we don’t have that data.”

The study will be conducted under the federal government’s National Koala Management Program, which earlier this month received a further $50 million to improve health outcomes for the species.

Mr Cass said the project will be carried out with three areas of focus: new technology, Traditional Owner knowledge and citizen science.

He said monitoring koala populations is something that everyone can take part in.

On iNaturalist, a phone application created to help users track animals, individuals can log sightings of koalas that will help toward the data collection effort.

Mr Cass said he had already seen a promising uptake in the usage of the technology.