Island threatened by climate change 11: Torres Strait Islands

Credit: SBS


Global sea levels are rising and the world’s land ice is disappearing. Sea levels have risen 6 to 8 inches in the past 100 years, and Antarctica has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers of ice per year since 2002, according to NASA satellite data.

By the year 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that sea levels will rise as much as 20 inches.

While rising sea levels ultimately influence the entire planet, they pose the greatest threat to the islands currently residing at sea level.

Here are some of the islands — many of them small nations — likely to face this crisis first.

The Torres Strait itself was previously a land bridge which connected the present-day Australian continent with New Guinea (in a single landmass called Sahul, Meganesia, Australia-New Guinea).

This land bridge was most recently submerged by rising sea levels at the termination of the last ice-age glaciation (approximately 12,000 years ago), forming the Strait which now connects the Arafura and Coral seas.

Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are the remaining peaks of this land bridge which were not completely submerged when the ocean levels rose.

The islands and their surrounding waters and reefs provide a highly diverse set of land and marine ecosystems, with niches for many rare or unique species.

Saltwater crocodiles inhabit the islands along with neighboring areas of Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

Marine animals of the islands include dugongs (an endangered species of sea mammal widely found throughout the Indian Ocean and tropical Western Pacific, including Papua-New Guinean and Australian waters), as well as green, ridley, hawksbill and flatback sea turtles.

The Torres Strait Islands may be grouped into five distinct clusters, which exhibit differences of geology and formation as well as location.

The Torres Strait provides a habitat for numerous birds, including the Torresian imperial-pigeon, which is seen as the iconic national emblem to the islanders.

The Torres Strait Islands are 274 islands in the namesake strait between Australia’s Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.

Fourteen of the islands are inhabited, but that doesn’t mean raising sea levels aren’t a threat to the little over 4,000 people who call the islands home.

Or the dead that call it home, for that matter. On the northernmost island, Boigu Island, cemeteries are staring down inundation, and roads are being swept away by the sea.

The island also has a failing seawall. To the southeast, Masig Island, which isn’t even 2 miles long and less than half a mile across at its widest point, is being “eaten” by the sea.

Evacuating the island may be the only option for residents.

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