PARADISE LOST: Some of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Yasi when it hit Queensland's Heritage Listed natural assets. Rob Maccoll / The Courier-Mail

By Peter Michael, The Courier-Mail
February 08, 2011 12:01AM

WORLD Heritage rainforest and surviving populations of endangered southern cassowaries and dugong were hit hard by Cyclone Yasi, scientists warn.

Some of Queensland's top tropical experts met for the first time yesterday to assess the ecological impact of the Category 5 cyclone described as "far worse and over a far greater geographical scale" than Cyclone Larry.

Researchers are yet to obtain satellite and aerial data showing the full extent of destruction to the world's oldest continuous surviving rainforest - up to 130 million years old - from Etty Bay south to Ingham.

Huge sections of ancient rainforest trees, stripped bare by the 300km/h winds near the eye of the cyclone near Mission Beach, stand like dried stalks in the once-thick green foliage.

Virtually none of Queensland has been untouched by destructive weather in the past month. 

Experts believe hundreds of kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef, too, will take up to 10 years to recover from the effects of Cyclone Yasi.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is yet to send divers for underwater assessments. But broken coral from the fragile reef ecosystem and floating islands of seagrass torn off the shallow ocean floor are being washed ashore along the hardest hit parts of the coastline.

Professor Paul Gadek, a highly respected tropical scientist, said the coastal and mountain rainforests had been decimated in a natural cycle doubtless replayed over countless thousands of years.

"Cyclones are part of the natural order," said the James Cook University professor. "But when you see the loss of canopy, the loss of large trees, the loss of habitant and the extent of area it covers, it beggars belief as to how it can possibly recover." …

GBRMPA chief Russell Reichelt said the progress the reef has made since Cyclone Larry will now be destroyed.

Mr Reichelt said the cyclone and storm surge would have smashed coral beds and moved coral boulders, sand and rubble. …

Yasi strips rare forests, reef

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