Augusta-Margaret River Times

Protest group Preserve Gnarabup has added concerns about endangered western ringtail possums to its argument against a proposed five-star resort on the Margaret River coast.

In a statement this week, the group detailed multiple sightings by members reported to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions during the past two months.

“The presence of critically endangered ringtail possums on the sites adds strength to Preserve Gnarabup’s goal of rezoning the lots to public reserve,” group spokesman Andrew Haskell said.

“It is our duty to care for the ecosystems that sustain us and the incredible biodiversity we have in the South West. One of the biggest threats to biodiversity is habitat loss … development that removes remnant habitat highlights destructive behaviours that are no longer acceptable.”

One ringtail possum was found dead near the Gnarabup Beach carpark, while a “healthy mother and daughter” were spotted living in peppermint trees on one of the development lots.

Other solitary possums were also sighted, the group said.

Saracen Properties project director Joel Saraceni said the protesters were engaged in “a misguided attempt to fling a bit of mud at the project and hope that it sticks”.

The developers were undertaking their own flora and fauna assessment as part of the development application process, he said.

“Western ringtail possums’ habitat is predominantly in the canopies of peppermint trees and eucalypts, and there is not a single mature tree on the site that would be a suitable habitat,” Mr Saraceni said.

“The fact is, mature trees have not had an opportunity to regenerate since the devastating bushfires in 2011 completely destroyed all vegetation on the site.”

Mr Saraceni said 2015 documents prepared for the previous iteration of the resort noted “development of the site was not expected to impact the Western ringtail possum due to a lack of suitable canopy habitat”.

Preserve Gnarabup also cited Shire of Augusta-Margaret River-commissioned research noting the fragility of possum habitat in the face of development. Mr Haskell said the group’s call to change the development lots to parks and recreation zoning was “entirely consistent with State and Federal Government policy for the protection of the species”.