Cyclone Yasi is expected to have damaged some parts of the Great Barrier Reef, with severe damage likely to have occurred along the cyclone track as it crossed the Reef and reached the coast near Mission Beach.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Chairman Russell Reichelt said that because the cyclone tracked across rather than along the length of the Reef, most other parts of the 340,000sq km World Heritage-listed Marine Park are expected to have escaped damage from the cyclone.
'Cyclones are regular events and do affect the coral reef ecosystem dramatically,' Dr Reichelt said. 'However, they tend to be localised to a specific area compared to other large scale effects such as mass coral bleaching caused by climate change.
'With good water quality, the Great Barrier Reef can bounce back from severe storms such as Cyclone Yasi. We saw this with the impact of Cyclone Larry which hit the Reef in 2006.'
Dr Reichelt said the extent of damage to the Reef will likely be similar to that caused by Cyclone Larry but possibly it will be spread over a wider strip given the greater size of Yasi. The footprint left by Cyclone Yasi on the Reef will be larger.
Expected damage will include smashed coral beds, movements of coral boulders, sand and rubble and major disturbance to seagrass beds.
'GBRMPA will commence a full assessment from next week but we expect the most damage will be from Mission Beach and Cardwell down to Townsville. We can expect to see other less severe storm effects over a wider area, mainly south of the cyclone’s centre and possibly extending to Bowen.'
Dr Reichelt said early reports are indicating that tourism operators in popular sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park near Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays are expected to be up and running as soon as tomorrow (Saturday 5 February). The public should check with tourism operators’ sites around Mission Beach, Dunk Island and the Hinchinbrook Region.
It will be some days before the effects on fishing in the Marine Park are known. Ports and Shipping operations are already returning to normal.
Dr Reichelt said the GBRMPA had detailed information about the condition of the Reef before Cyclone Yasi, based on an extensive survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) after Cyclone Larry.
'With further assessments in the coming weeks, we will be able to establish the difference between the Reef’s condition before and after Cyclone Yasi,' he said.
'Our first priority will be to meet with our partners AIMS and James Cook University to develop a strategy for surveying the damage on the Reef and to ascertain the extent of the damage.
'We also have a comprehensive ongoing monitoring program which draws on reports from sources throughout the Marine Park, including our own field managers, tourism operators and a range of interested groups and individuals.
'The reef monitoring program will be invaluable for sourcing information that helps us to understand the extent and severity of damage.'