• Cyclone rebuild: Post-Yasi paradise back in business

    Posted 14 Aug 2011

    A YouTube video produced by Ben Southall who embarked on the Best Expedition in the World in 2011. Ben explored Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef on a four month, 1,600km kayak and sailing journey. Along the way, he popped into Orpheus to check out our refurbishment works post Cyclone Yasi.  

    Early in 2011, many of Queensland’s ultimate ‘getaway’ islands couldn’t escape the tree-splitting wrath of tropical Cyclone Yasi. Stranded somewhere in its epic path of destruction, they became shells of what they used to be – above and below the water.

    The aftermath of a cyclone can be felt above and below the ocean. With storm swell 9 metres above normal, the surging waves roll deeply across the ocean floor moving huge objects as big. Even as big as the SS Yongala – a 100yr old cruise liner! Fragile coral reefs are also at risk, thousands of years of slow coral growth can be destroyed all too easily. I had to get underwater in some of these areas to see for myself what had happened.

    We stopped at Orpheus Island Research Station for a couple of days, it’s been here for 20 years and is a gem of a location. Nestled in the nape of the island with some superb coral reef and bommies out front and right in the line of Yasi. I’m not sure what to expect really but as I dive, snorkel and swim around the bay I’m very happily surprised by the amount that remains undamaged.

    There are areas that have broken staghorn coral, but at least 80% of the bommies remain standing, the hardier of the corals remain untouched. The micro-environments these coral reefs provide are still thriving with fish and marine life, the colours are still there and I surface having had the best dive experience since Lady Elliot Island, one of my firm favourites on the Great Barrier Reef.

    Up on the land the evidence is a little more obvious. Trees have been stripped of their foliage and the luxury resort around the corner has been damaged. I stop by to talk with Rob and Kylie, the resorts managers, about the night of Yasi and the phoenix that’s rising from the ashes.

    This is a perfect opportunity to make things better. With slight damage to some of the holiday villas the owner of the island saw it as a chance to redesign and rebuild his business and bring it up to date with some of the other island resorts around the world. Eco-sensitive living is what the name of the game is going to be here. They are installing solar water heating and solar power systems in Phase 1, bringing online a rainwater collection and treatment system later in the year and planting their own market garden they will grow their own fruit and vegetables in for use in the resort’s kitchen.

    He also decided to employ local indigenous workers from Palm Island to help with the rebuild over the next few weeks and once the work is completed some will stay on as permanent staff. It’s just a different way of thinking about the future and how to make things better after a natural disaster.

    Let’s not beat around the bush here, the damage that Cyclone Yasi created was far reaching, but six months down the line the trees are looking green again, the beaches are as beautiful as they always were, the marine life has come out of hiding to swim all around you and the people have come out fighting.

    Queensland has always had tropical storms and every time it recovers and comes back stronger. Visiting the epicentre has been an education in human spirit and natural resilience and one to be very proud of.

    Tropical North Queensland is definitely back in business.