Friday 11 April, 2014 Sydney, NSW.

Based on advice from Emergency Services and meteorological sources, the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) has evacuated all researchers and staff for the onset of Cyclone Ita, a category four storm heading towards the Queensland coast.

As the safety of researchers and staff is crucial, visiting researchers were evacuated on Wednesday, 9 April and staff were evacuated at 11am on Thursday, 10 April. No visitors or staff remain at the Research Station and operational procedures have been put in place to secure the research facilities.

Kim McKay AO, Australian Museum Director and CEO said, “These events can be extremely dangerous and our primary concern is to ensure our Australian Museum staff and visiting researchers are safe and well. Our people initiated evacuation plans on Wednesday moving visitors from the research station and securing the facilities. This preparation has ensured everyone is safe on the mainland.”

“The Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station is recognised as one of the best field stations in the world for tropical marine research and is a world-leading supplier of on-reef facilities for coral reef research and education. Facilities include laboratories, workshops and accommodation buildings as well as a fleet of boats,” McKay said.

Drs. Lyle Vail AM and Anne Hoggett AM, Directors of Lizard Island Research Station said, “In our 24 years of living and working on Lizard Island this is the first time we have had to evacuate. We anticipate there will be significant damage to the coast and to the reef.”

Dr. Brian Lassig, Australian Museum Assistant Director, Science & Learning said, “As well as the direct human impacts, cyclones can cause significant damage to coral reefs themselves. Reefs are littered with large upturned coral boulders from past cyclones and many delicate corals are broken, uprooted and killed. Young fish recruit to reefs in mid- to late-summer (when cyclones are most likely to occur). Storm surge and waves can have major impacts on the young fish who are unable to cope with rough water conditions. While adult fish in shallower water can suffer injury from being washed against corals, many young fish die. This can have long-term impacts on the fish communities which rely on young recruits from year to year.”

The Australian Museum will await Emergency Services clearance before returning to Lizard Island to assess any damage and required repairs. It is anticipated that the earliest date staff will be able to return to the Research Station is Sunday, 13 April. We are pleased to be collaborating with the Lizard Island Resort team especially in transporting our staff back to Lizard Island. A decision on when visiting scientists can safely return to Lizard Island will be made after an assessment of our facilities has been conducted.

For further information visit Lizard Island Research Station.