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Koala Country

Community spotlight: Scott Hetherington & Marama Hopkins | Tweed Shire Council

28 Aug 2018
Community & partnerships

In his role as a senior program leader for biodiversity at the Tweed Shire Council, Scott and his colleague Marama Hopkins have reduced speeding in koala zones using a range of new approaches.


Scott Hetherington & Marama Hopkins


'When new highways go through there’s often consideration of their potential impact on wildlife.

But to date, there has been little consideration of the impact on connecting roads which can be subject to increases in traffic of more than 100%.

On the Tweed Coast, we were losing one or two koalas a year on a section of a connecting road near Cabarita that cuts through some important koala habitat. One or two deaths doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when you look at the size of our local koala population.


Koala road sign


In an ideal situation, we would separate koalas and roads completely, but this isn’t always possible. Clearly the koala and speed signs we had were not working and we needed to better understand what we were dealing with.

We brought in our traffic guys to monitor what was happening in the area and they found that more than 75% of drivers were traveling over the speed limit. Also, most drivers were locals who use the road as part of a regular commute.

When we looked at the literature around road signs it confirmed that the average person doesn’t really read traditional signs. Also, people who drive past the same sign often get sign fatigue and they simply no longer see it.

We needed to come up with new ways to change driver behaviour and increase broad awareness that this is a koala zone.

What we’ve found is that each individual slice of road is different and needs individual treatment. At Cabarita, we’ve used pavement treatments and variable message signs, and these have reduced the number of drivers traveling over the speed limit by 15%. While there is more work to be done, this is a good start in reducing the risk to koalas on this section of road.


Koala road sign


We also went to three local schools and asked to speak to their leadership groups. We said: ‘These are the issues; how do we change behaviour and who do we target?’

The kids came up with their own messages, creative stickers, posters and even a song to communicate with their parents and families about the need to look out for koalas on the road. You can’t underestimate the pester power of kids in helping start the process of changing their parent’s behaviour.”