Four Bureau of Meteorology personnel based on a remote island in the middle of the Coral Sea have been evacuated by a Royal Australian Navy helicopter as Tropical Cyclone Jasper bears down on the North Queensland coast.
Willis Island is a 500 m long, 7.7 ha sand cay located 480 km due east of Port Douglas and is the only permanently inhabited island in Australia’s Coral Sea territories.
Apart from being a prolific nesting site for seabirds, it also has a small weather station manned year-round by BOM staff. The island is partly protected by a coral reef, but most of it lies at or just above sea level.
The weather station was established on the island in 1921 to provide early warning of cyclone activity to the mainland. In 2011, Tropical Cyclone Yasi passed directly over the island with wind gusts of at least 185 km/h, which damaged the weather station and also stripped most of the vegetation off the island.
With Cyclone Jasper expected to impact the Queensland coast sometime this week and Willis Island being close to the predicted path, the staff were evacuated on 9 December by an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter from the Royal Australian Navy destroyer, HMAS Brisbane.
The ship was diverted to the mission under the Defence Aid to the Civil Community (DACC) arrangements while returning from a three-month Indo-Pacific regional presence deployment during which it conducted training, exercises and other engagements with Australia’s regional partners along with HMA Ships Stalwart and Toowoomba.