The Daydream Island pool will make way for a new interactive lagoon. (ABC Tropical North: Rachel Riga)
One of the Whitsundays’ most iconic island resorts is on the mend after sustaining significant damage during Cyclone Debbie.
Daydream Island bore the brunt of the category four storm when it hit near Airlie Beach on March 28 last year.
Wind gusts of up to 260km/hr and a tidal surge tore through the resort resulting in its temporary closure.
But owner China Capital Investment Group has pumped $86 million into repair and redevelopment works to have the luxury island resort reopened to guests by the end of September.
Head of sales and marketing for Daydream Island, Jayson Heron, said refurbishments included new rooms, bars, restaurants, swimming pools and an improved outdoor interactive reef, which guests could use for snorkelling or marine-life feeding.
“The living reef — our huge freeform outdoor lagoon with hundreds of species of fish — will also be a key highlight, especially the education component of that and the underwater observatory area,” he said.
Marine biologist Johnny Gaskell said the island’s shoreline would regain its shape with time. (ABC Tropical North: Rachel Riga)
Mermaids future uncertain
The island’s iconic mermaid statues were washed away during the storm surge, and a decision had not been made on whether they would feature in the resort’s new design.
The island’s beaches and surrounding corals were also impacted by the cyclone, with the shoreline slowly recovering.
Marine biologist and manager of the island’s living reef, Johnny Gaskell, said the island was stripped of vegetation and the cyclone’s strong wave action had changed its beaches.
“It wasn’t permanent damage so we’re already seeing the beaches regain their shape,” he said.
“At Lovers Cove it wasn’t changed that much, but if you look around the top end of the island, there was a shift in sand, but over time that will go back to what it was pretty quick.”
The island’s corals also took a battering.
“Some coral did really well and some not as well,” Mr Gaskell said.
“With cyclones the damage is generally not permanent, it just needs time to recover.
“One side of the island is now one of the best spots in the Whitsundays which is such a relief to us because the coral was protected by South Molle Island.
“The wind couldn’t generate enough swell coming from the south-easterly direction so it was protected.”
Tourism operators move visitors off the reef
Other spots in the Whitsundays weren’t so lucky.
In July last year, the Australian Institute of Marine Science said in some reefs up to 95 per cent of the coral cover was lost.
Whitsunday dive operator Tony Fontes said it could take more than 10 years for the coral to recover.
The pool will be removed during the redevelopment works. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
“It’s way too early to talk about corals coming back,” he said.
“They take a decade to return when conditions are what they should be, which they aren’t at the moment.”
He said tourism operators diversified the experiences they offered, and were offering more onshore activities on the islands like bushwalking and beach day trips.
“The tourism industry is resilient here, and we’re lucky we have the islands and have different options,” Mr Fontes said.
“If we were dependent on the outer reef, then we wouldn’t have all these onshore activities to tide us over when the coral isn’t what it should be.”
Visitor numbers hold steady
It seems tourists don’t mind.
Figures from Tourism Whitsundays showed both international and domestic visitor numbers during 2017 remained on par with the previous year.
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Craig Turner said 250,000 international visitors and more than 520,000 domestic travellers came to the region last year.
Rooms and the restaurant on Daydream Island will overlook the new ‘living reef’ once the island reopens. (ABC Tropical North: Rachel Riga)
“Internationally we’re tracking about where we were last year so we have about a two per cent decline compared to this time last year, but overall we’re solid,” he said.
“Domestically there’s been a change with more business travellers compared to holiday visitors, but that could because of the workers coming for repairs.”
Mr Turner said he expected visitor numbers to surge once the island’s resorts come back online.
“This year is exciting, we have Daydream Island coming back at the end of September and Hayman reopening — at this stage in December,” he said.