Scientists on Monday again urged the government to advance the uniquely Australian platypus towards a threatened species classification after it missed out on a priority assessment in September.
The platypus population has halved in the past 30 years according to a UNSW model, due to historic land clearing, river regulation, and extreme droughts. The area of eastern Australia where platypuses are found has shrunk by about 200,000 square kilometres (22 per cent) over that period.
"We recorded the most severe declines in platypus observations in NSW - particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin, where natural river systems and water flows have been the most heavily modified," said UNSW's Dr Tahneal Hawke, a lead author of a new report released this week.
The scientists say an engaged listing would increase the scrutiny given to developments that threaten the iconic animals, and prioritise their monitoring.
The platypus was not included in a 28-species priority list put forward in September by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, an expert body established under Australian environmental law. Inclusion would have meant further assessment towards possible listing as an endangered species.
Koalas were included in the priority list following a nomination by members of the public, but the federal government isn't waiting for the assessment process to act.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley on Monday announced an audit identifying where koala habitat areas could be expanded and establishing an annual monitoring program.
"For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires," Ms Ley said.
Labor's environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said counting koalas wasn't enough. An earlier inquiry found koalas will be extinct in NSW by 2050, however, the National Koala Conservation Strategy expired in 2014 and has not been replaced.
The new koala census will cost $2 million. The government plans to contribute a further $2 million to koala health research and veterinary support, tackling diseases like chlamydia. $14 million will be allocated to restoring lost koala habitat, including bushfire-affected areas.
Clearing of koala habitat for commercial use has been a contentious issue in eastern states, with a new koala planning policy sparking significant tensions inside the NSW Coalition.