02 June 2022

Portland Aluminium to plant trees for koala habitat

Alcoa Portland Aluminium will plant 18 hectares of eucalypt species to create alternate habitat for koalas found in high numbers in parkland adjacent to its smelter.

The planting is part of Portland Aluminium’s Koala Management Plan, which demonstrates the smelter’s commitment to support the ongoing protection and management of the local koala population.

High koala densities are a major issue for the Portland area and broader south-western Victorian region.

Portland Aluminium began annual koala health assessments in 2020 due to concerns around high koala numbers and the welfare of animals within its main blue gum plantation close to the smelter.

Under permits obtained from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, three assessments have been conducted by experienced wildlife veterinarians including most recently in April 2022. Assessments will continue annually and include health checks on resident koalas as well as fertility control on females to reduce breeding rates. Koalas deemed to be in poor health are euthanised humanely.

The knowledge acquired through the assessments, along with analysis undertaken by the University of Melbourne, has revealed over browsing is a key contributor to poor koala health.

The assessments have also found that while the smelter’s fluoride emissions are within EPA guidelines and don’t pose a threat to human health, deposition in trees within close proximity to the smelter does contribute to poor health in some koalas.

To reduce the risks fluoride can pose to koalas, Portland Aluminium will gradually harvest its main blue gum plantation and other areas of known koala habitat within close proximity to the smelter over the next two years.

The planned plantings, which will start by early spring, will offset the harvesting and be undertaken on Portland Aluminium land further away from the smelter.

Portland Aluminium’s Koala Management Plan has been developed in conjunction with the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning and other stakeholders including Eco Plan Australia, the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of Melbourne.

The plan, which aims to support a long-term sustainable koala population, includes short term goals to address koala welfare together with medium to long term goals around habitat and risk mitigation.

Under the plan, fencing surrounding the smelter has already been modified to prevent wildlife entry and personnel have undertaken approved refresher training on koala handling. Daily monitoring of koala numbers close to the smelter is also continuing.

Portland Aluminium also has a Fluoride Emissions Management Plan that drives continual efforts to reduce fluoride emissions, which are already below regulated levels and pose no danger to humans.

The success of the plan will be monitored throughout its ongoing implementation.