Cyclone Debbie was already posing a threat to North Queensland coastal tourism, but overnight has battered the region even further, and concerns have popped up about the state of our beloved Reef.
Cyclone Debbie, which was upgraded to a category four storm, is the most severe storm to lash the state since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, the one that saw banana prices fly up and cost about $400 million in tourism dollars.
Over 60 thousand homes are without power in the North Queensland area, which is also littered with fallen power lines, uprooted trees, blocked roads and boats wrenched from their moorings.
There’s no access via roads to areas around Bowen, Airlie Beach and Proserpine, and winds of up to 120km/h continue to rattle Emerald to St Lawrence.
But it’s the Great Barrier Reef that has a lot of tourism heavyweights worried.
Tour operators and emergency crews are yet to determine the extent of the damage to the Reef around tourist magnets like Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach, including the famous ‘heart’.
The Reef is already fragile from severe coral bleaching, and now Dr David Wachenfeld, of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, has told Fairfax the first priority will be “the immediate physical damage in that central part of the storm with high wind speeds”.
“It’s had lots of time for the wave energy to be built up by the winds and for that wave energy to hit the tops of the reefs.”
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority director David Wachenfeld added that combined with bleaching, the “physical damage” to the Reef was a big concern.
“We’ve got two different styles of extreme weather events delivering different coral impacts — but nonetheless killing corals in two different parts of the reef,” he told Fairfax.
“There is some overlap between them but, essentially, each of the three events [the 2016 and 2017 bleaching and Cyclone Debbie] is covering a different large area of the Great Barrier Reef.
“The three of them in conjunction will have delivered a really serious impact in just over a year.”
Queensland Tourism Industry Council boss Daniel Gschwind also told AAP Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays generated about $2 million a day in tourism, and his concern is people will cancel trips after seeing images of the “catastrophic” storm in the media.
“When the images of disasters, strong winds, uprooted trees go around the world and around Australia, some people incorrectly assume that all of Queensland is shut,” he told AAP.
“We don’t want a second wave of damage of people unnecessarily cancelling their holidays.”
Meanwhile, Daydream Island appear to have copped the worst of the storm, with the mammoth winds and rain damaging resorts and properties.
In a statement to media, Daydream Island reps said, “Daydream Island Resort and Spa has along with surrounding areas borne the brunt of Cyclone Debbie today.
“Conditions were extreme with heavy rainfall and strong wind gusts causing damage to the resort and surrounds.
“Whilst conditions are still dangerous outside we aren’t able to ascertain the full extent of damage, however we can initially advise the following has occurred:
- Extensive damage to vegetation across the island with many uprooted trees;
- Significant damage to the resort’s jetty and pontoons;
- The Rejuvenation Spa roof has been lifted with the premises suffering water damage;
- General water damage to the Main Atrium and accommodation wings from the force of the driving rain;
- A boardwalk section has lifted away;
- Two of the three iconic Mermaid statues have been swept away.
“Every guest has been accounted for and are safe as are all our staff.”
“The resort’s priority is the ongoing safety of on-island guests and staff who will need to be taken off island as soon as practical. Daydream Island is endeavouring to contact all guests arriving on Daydream in the near future.”