Facility History

Orpheus Island is one of the granitic, continental Palm Islands, approximately 125km north of Townsville, and 16 nautical miles from the mainland (Lucinda). OIRS is located at Pioneer Bay which is approximately a 45 minute journey by boat from Lucinda. The facilities are built within a 2.692 hectare site of land leased from the QPWS on the western side of the Island.  Approximately 30% of the leased area has been developed, with the remaining area in natural or near natural condition.

The OIRS site was originally a special lease on the Orpheus Island National Park issued under the Lands Act to My Dyason in 1970 which was transferred to James Cook University on 14th February 1978 to operate a research facility. Prior to 1978, mangroves were removed from the southern tidal estuary of the bay to provide boat shelter during rough weather. Exotic flora and fauna, including rabbits, goats, cattle and numerous species of cacti, were brought to the island for different reasons and at different times. These subsequently escaped to become pests.

Since 1978 accommodation units, toilet facilities, freshwater tanks, aquaria, wet and dry laboratory facilities, generators, and fuel storage facilities have been added to the area for station use.  Tracks and service lines have been constructed throughout the area of leased land occupied by the station. James Cook University constructed aquaria, hatchery and accommodation facilities in the early 80s, a dry lab in the early 90s and a $4.1 million upgrade to the facilities in 2004.

In January 2019, a solar array of 263 panels was installed at the facility as part of the station's sustainability efforts to reduce emissions.

What's going on under the water in Pioneer Bay?

Rockcod, coral trout, blacktip reef sharks, turtles, yellowtail fusiliers… what will you see today?

See what is happening underwater in Pioneer Bay right now, just press play!

To watch highlights that we've recorded from this camera, you can Meet the Residents on the Classroom on the Reef. The camera is situated between a bommie (mixed coral outcrop) and an acropora outcrop where lots of marine life congregate.


We have the capacity to accommodate up to 60 guests at one time in our two accommodation blocks: Havana and Pelorus. Pillows, mattress protectors, linen and a blanket are provided on each bed. All rooms are fly-screened and are equipped with shelves, clothes hanger space, wall or ceiling fans, and floor-to-ceiling louvre windows.

Each accommodation block has access to separate bathroom areas with composting toilets, showers and deep sinks for hand washing laundry. There is also a small entertainment area in each section with comfortable chairs, TV, stereo, and shared access to a small fiction library. Wireless internet is available throughout. In front of the accommodation blocks you’ll find two large communal BBQs and hammocks available for all guests.

All kitchen areas are equipped with large industrial gas ovens, microwaves, fridges and freezers. Additionally, the largest kitchen comes equipped with industrial-sized pots and pans for group meal preparation. All plates, glasses and cutlery are supplied.


At 11km long and roughly 1km wide, the completely vehicle-free island offers an unspoilt encounter with iconic Australian eucalypt forests, beautiful bushwalks and scenic lookouts.

The island itself is home to a diversity of plant and animal life. Echidnas, bandicoots, green leaf building ants, and various reptiles are just some of the terrestrial wildlife found on the island and around the Research Station.

At low tide, sit on the verandah at Havana House and look out into the bay. You’ll see thousands of giant clams shooting water into the air.

Havana House

This two story accommodation block houses up to 48 guests in its eight rooms. Each room has 6 bunk beds, wall fans and open wardrobes for storage of personal belongings. Most rooms offer a view of the ocean or the tropical rainforest. Rooms are not air-conditioned but do have large floor to ceiling louvre windows that capture the sea breezes, keeping rooms at a comfortable temperature all year round.

Pelorus House

Built in 2004, Pelorus House is a fully self-contained accommodation block offering four bedroom units: 4 rooms with 3 single beds. Each room has fans and open wardrobes for storage of personal belongings.

The central kitchen and lounge area is fully air-conditioned with two fridge freezers, a large pantry, couches, dining table and chairs. A second dining table and chairs, and a washing machine and chest freezer can also be found on the ample verandah which overlooks the surrounding national park.

The ablution block is located in a separate building at the rear of Pelorus House. It comprises two composting toilets, two showers and hand basins.

Communal facilities

Catering to visitors staying in Havana House, this air-conditioned building contains a combined kitchen and recreational area. It has two fully equipped kitchens stocked with all items necessary for catering for large groups and small. The deck area is sufficient in size to accommodate up to 48 diners along a series of 7-8 banquet tables.

An entertainment area offers a TV, stereo, two comfortable lounge chairs and a small selection of books.

At the rear of the facility is the ablution block offering six shower and toilet stalls, hand basins and mirrors, as well as three deep sinks for washing of clothes and several clothes lines.