Willis Island (Coral Sea)
Aerial view of Willis Island in 2006
|Area||7.7 ha (19 acres)|
|Length||500 m (1,600 ft)|
|Width||150 m (490 ft)|
|Highest elevation||9 m (30 ft)|
Willis Island is an island in an external territory of Australia, located beyond the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea some 450 kilometres (280 mi) east of Cairns, Queensland. It is the southernmost of a group of three islands, which with their associated sandy cays stretch in a NNE to SSW line for about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi). Willis Island itself is aligned NW to SE and is about 500 metres (1,600 ft) long by 150 metres (490 ft) wide, 7.7 hectares (19 acres) in area, rising to about 9 metres (30 ft) above sea level. It is the only permanently inhabited island in Australia's Coral Sea Islands Territory.
 Weather monitoring station
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has a weather monitoring station on the island. There are usually three weather observers, one of whom is Officer-in-Charge, and one Technical Officer (electronic engineering) living on the island.
The Willis Island weather monitoring station was established in 1921, mainly as an early warning station for cyclones, for which it was equipped with a radio transmitter. The first officer in charge was John King Davis.
 Cyclone Yasi
On 2 February 2011, sometime shortly after 08:30 AEST, the eye of Cyclone Yasi moved directly over Willis Island as a Category 5 tropical cyclone. The station staff had been evacuated the previous day. A wind gust speed of 185 kilometres per hour (115 mph) was recorded by the weather station equipment before the anemometer failed. The barometric pressure fell to an exceptionally low 937.9 hectopascals (27.70 inHg). Around 9:00 am, radar data was disrupted. Roughly an hour later, communication with the island was completely lost. The cyclone altered the shape of the island and cleared much of its vegetation.
Limited services were restored on 17 February 2011. A Bureau of Meteorology spokeswoman later said the core building sustained minor damage to the roof, deck covering and one of the solar panels. "The radome which protects the radar was completely destroyed and the radar itself sustained damage and needed to be replaced," she said. The associated storm surge also damaged the power generator, sewage system and desalination equipment. Operation of the weather monitoring station was restored on 12 December 2011.
 Past infrastructure
Up to 2005 most of the infrastructure constructed in either 1950 or 1968 still existed. Refurbishment had been an on-going costly process. The small parcel of land (total island is 7.7 hectares) accommodated 8 buildings of varying structure as follows:
- Main Building housing recreation, kitchen/dining, sleeping, office and equipment room constructed in 1950;
- Main Store constructed in 1950;
- Laundry Building constructed in 1950;
- Bunker/Cyclone Shelter constructed in 1950;
- Generator Building constructed in 1968;
- Fire Pump Building constructed in 1968;
- Flammable Liquids Bunker constructed in 1968; and
- Balloon filling and Hydrogen Storage Building constructed 1950 (condemned).
Personal living accommodation was provided in a barracks-like wing between the meteorological office and the kitchen-living room area. Meteorological equipment included a defined equipment enclosure and a 7 metre high radar tower plus dome. Other equipment included a desalination plant and enviro-cycle sewage treatment plant.
 Current infrastructure
From 2005, the following new facilities and services:
- Meteorological office, messing area, accommodation, recreational area, powerhouse;
- Hydrogen generator building and gas storage, including associated site works;
- Relocated fuel storage tanks to a new concrete bunded diesel fuel area;
- Underground services related to communications, power distribution, water, sewage and fire hose reel services;
- Relocated satellite dishes and radar tower; and
- Refurbished salt water pump building.
Accommodation facilities caters for 4 permanent staff and up to 10 visiting personnel temporarily.
Meteorological equipment includes a defined equipment enclosure and a 7 metre high radar tower plus dome. Other equipment includes a desalination plant and enviro-cycle sewage treatment plant. Power generation comprises a hybrid system of a diesel generator combined with a wind generator and solar power. Rainwater harvesting has not been implemented due to the high level of marine bird life and guano deposits.
The station has a recreation room which includes amenities such as a pool table, darts and table tennis. An outside sporting area and a home gym are also provided. There is also recreational fishing.
For the windy days spent on the island, more leisurely recreation is also available. A substantial library caters for all tastes. Two satellite television systems enable reception of Australian Channel 10 and the ABC, and of free-to-air transmissions from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Programming includes the American television channels CNN and MTV and an extensive video library completes the passive entertainment options.
Occasional amateur radio operations occur here. Under DXCC rules Willis is considered to be a separate "entity" (equivalent to country) for award credit. A major DXpedition visited for several weeks in October 2008.
 Pollution issues
Over the decades of human occupation, a considerable amount of rubbish of many types accumulated. Much of it was buried but occasionally high winds and heavy seas from a cyclone would uncover parts of the rubbish dump. A major clean-up campaign was conducted to protect the sensitive areas such as the coral cays and sand dunes. All rubbish generated on the island now is placed in bins to be shipped back on the staff exchange vessel for disposal on the mainland.
Willis Island has significant asbestos contamination with fragments of asbestos containing material (ACM) visible on the beach, wedged between rocks in the intertidal area and around the main residential building. Several pockets of buried ACM have been uncovered during construction of the current facility in 2006. ACM contamination is a result of previous building replacement programs disposing of ACM in situ or in subsurface dumps scattered around the island. Subsequent severe weather events, and recent redevelopment, have exposed and scattered ACM fragments across the island. No formal OH&S investigations have been undertaken to establish potential for exposure to asbestos fibres on employees stationed on the island. Staff on the island collect wet (with no dust hazard) ACM from the shore and bag it for disposal on the mainland on a regular basis.
The staff generates its own supply of hydrogen for use in weather balloons. Prior to 1994, they used a chemical process to meet hydrogen needs. This process produced a toxic residue that was a danger to the local birdlife. Because of this danger, an electrolytic converter is now used to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The most common inhabitants are Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Sooty Terns and Common and Black Noddies. Their numbers are usually quite high and bird cries continue day and night on the island. Several species of booby migrate through the Island including Masked, Brown and Red-footed Boobies, and also the Lesser Frigatebird. Crested Terns are also seen to migrate, although not as often. Other birds mentioned by John King Davis are the Buff-banded Rail as a resident, Wood Sandpiper, and Sacred Kingfisher and Red-tailed Tropicbird as occasional visitors.
 See also
- "Willis Island - Daily Weather Observations". Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 2008--7-15.
- Davis, John King (1923). Willis Island: A Storm-Warning Station in the Coral Sea. Melbourne: Critchley Parker. OCLC 6098368.
- Lyell, Kim (2 February 2011). "Monster cyclone knocks out weather radar". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2 February 2011.
- "Back to business for Willis Island weather station". Bureau of Meteorology. 12 December 2011.
- "February 2011 Daily Weather Observations". Bureau of Meteorology.
- Yasi-hit weather station to be back on track
- REDEVELOPMENT OF WILLIS ISLAND METEOROLOGICAL OFFICE, CORAL SEA, Bureau of Meteorology, June 2005 (accessed 2nd February 2011)
- Fletcher, P. Chapter 10: The Original Inhabitants. Seventy-Five Years at Willis Island. 1996. Bureau of Meteorology.
 Further reading
- "Redevelopment of Willis Island Meteorological Office, Coral Sea". Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (Canberra). 2005. ISBN 0-642-78699-2.
- "Solitude and Solecisms: A Willis Island Notebook" by Frank Exon, edited by Neville Exon (Imprint: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012) is the journal and sketchbook of Frank Exon, a 27-year-old engineer for Amalgamated Wireless, kept while he was stationed on the island with two companions for six months in the 1920s: 'an engaging tale penned and illustrated by a natural writer and an astute observer of the natural world and of human nature, a testament to the resilience and good humour of a generation that had known the Great War'.