Willis Island weather station rebounds after Yasi

Willis Island is one of Queensland’s major frontline defences when it comes to keeping the State’s residents informed about cyclones.

The island, about 400km off the coast of Cairns, is home to an Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) weather station that is an early warning station for cyclones and storms. This station is an integral part of the Bureau’s weather observations network.

On 2 February 2011, the eye of Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi passed over Willis Island, which lies within the Coral Sea Conservation Zone. 

Observations from the island include unique marine-climate observations and front-line tropical cyclone monitoring for North Queensland.

Established in the late 1920s, the station has been providing continuous weather and climate observations for more than 90 years.

The 7.7 hectare island is home to four bureau staff, who leave a low environmental footprint, and has a vibrant bird life  that includes wedge-taled shearwaters, migrating boobies and sooty terns.

Yasi caused extensive damage to the island’s observing facilities and resulted in significant loss of fauna and flora. 

BoM immediately put in place a program of infrastructure works to restore the observing capabilities and life support systems (including water, sewerage and energy) and rehabilitate the island’s flora.

To minimise the environmental impact from the proposed construction activities, BoM developed an Environment Management Plan for the construction activities and engaged the services of an on-site ecologist.

BoM capitalised on the restoration activities by introducing a schedule of environmental improvements to increase energy efficiency, minimise generation of waste and improve the island’s grey water recycling system.

As a result of BoMs pro-active response, the team was able to introduce several environmental improvements, including a robust revegetation program where staff propagated and planted species native to Willis Island.

Temporary artificial roosting areas were also created to encourage guano deposits to assist with the regrowth in the revegetation area.

The island’s energy efficiency was significantly boosted with a 20 per cent increase in solar energy capacity and its use of non-recyclable materials was reduced considerably. The environmental sustainability of the island’s life support systems were also upgraded by introducing new waste and recycling systems.