Recovery seeds of doubt
THOUSANDS of hectares of near-pristine rainforest in ‘‘ Cyclone Alley’’ might never recover from the belting it took from the Category Five weather system called Yasi.
Huge swaths of rainforest including the mightiest trees were felled in winds close to 300km/ h on the night of February 2 and early in the morning of February 3.
In the area encompassing and surrounding what is known as the army’s jungle training facility on the Tully Gorge road, the mountainous r a i nf o r e s t was v i r t ual l y cleared by the raking winds which reduced forest giants and the smaller under-storey to matchwood.
Professor Steve Turton from James Cook University’s Earth and Environmental Science Department said the Category Five cyclone had done enormous damage to rainforest in the area between Cairns and Cardwell he described as ‘‘ Cyclone Alley’’.
‘‘ Much of the area between Cairns and Cardwell hadn’t fully recovered from Cyclone Larry in 2006,’’ he said.
Rainforest foliage in ruins
‘‘ I call this area Cyclone Alley, because it seems to get more cyclones than the Daintree area further north.’’
Dr Dan Metcalfe, principal research scientist with the CSIRO at Atherton, said the lowland rainforests had been more badly damaged in Yasi than in Cyclone Larry. He said the flattening of the rainforest by the cyclonic winds would trigger a seeding response in a significant number of species which might not have otherwise had the opportunity to expand their range.
He said the cyclone, for these species, presented an opportunity t o f ruit and further establish their presence in the habitat.
He said that a big threat now, particularly in lowland areas – where smaller, isol a t e d p o c k e t s h a d b e e n knocked over – was weed invasion.
Dr Metcalfe said the event, for rainforest trees – which lived for 500 to 600 years – was one of those things the s pecies would encounter from time to time.
Prof Turton said the rainforest in the major-impact areas of Mission Beach, Tully and Cardwell was ‘‘ hyper-disturbed’’, but was astonishingly resilient.
He said it would take ‘‘ a long time’’ for the rainforest to come back, adding there were no guarantees some sections would recover.
He said there were concerns some of the rainforest – particularly in areas still recovering f rom Cyclone Larry – would ever make a full recovery.