30 March 2007

The University of Queensland intends to get its world-class research and teaching facility at Heron Island, 80km from Gladstone back up and running as soon as it can.

University Secretary and Registrar Douglas Porter said the damage was still being estimated from an overnight fire which destroyed a number of buildings at the Heron Island Research Station.

A small number of staff and researchers who were at the station were safely evacuated. There were no students on site and no one was injured.

Damage was to the station’s research laboratories, a computer lab, student accommodation and part of the staff accommodation. The laboratories received accolades in the Royal Australian Institute of Architecture regional awards last year.

“Our first priority is the immediate welfare our staff,” he said. “I am very sorry that they have had such a traumatic experience.

“I congratulate staff on their safe and effective evacuation of the building overnight and the way in which they contributed to dealing with threats from the fire.

“Arrangements are being made for their accommodation, salaries, re-establishment of essential services and counselling.

“I hope we can deal with these issues promptly and sympathetically.

“Although infrastructure has been destroyed the research data on the whole has been saved.

“The cause of the fire is being determined by an official investigation team.”

Mr Porter also thanked staff from the adjacent Heron Island resort, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Queensland Fire and Rescue and the Police Service and other agencies who have assisted following the event.

Mr Porter said other buildings on the island would be used as temporary research facilities.

The University was already examining its ability to continue its research and teaching programmes as soon as possible, albeit at a reduced capacity, while plans were made for rebuilding facilities.

Arrangements would be reviewed to accommodate teaching of undergraduate students and the University was holding discussions with its international partners who use the facility. Impacts on research projects and postgraduate students were being assessed.

Mr Porter said senior University staff had travelled to the Island today to ensure the welfare of staff and students and assess damage.

Heron Island Research Station is a world-class research and teaching facility and the most productive and prestigious marine research station in Australia. The Station has been established for over 50 years and is an internationally renowned facility for coral reef research, and student training in marine sciences.

Research projects conducted there include work on climate change, particularly its impact on coral reefs.

Media enquiries Jan King 0413 601 248.