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Close to home: The climate crisis in the Torres Strait

The Torres Strait Islands are hidden jewels, all too often forgotten by the rest of Australia.

Lying between the Cape York Peninsular and Papua New Guinea, this archipelago of 274 islands is home to over 4000 Torres Strait Islanders with unique history, languages and culture.

But these islands and communities are facing a looming catastrophe from climate change.

A family fishes for mullet on Masig Island.
Photo: Brian Cassey/OxfamAUS

Torres Strait Islanders have contributed almost nothing to the causes of climate change, but are being hit first and hardest by its impacts,” – Helen Szoke, former Oxfam Chief Executive.

Oxfam visited the Torres Strait Islands earlier this month to meet with communities and learn firsthand some of the impacts they are experiencing.

On Boigu Island, the most northerly inhabited island in Australia, the community faces ever-greater challenges from coastal erosion and inundation.

“Things are changing every year. Our sea wall is no longer any good. When the high tide and strong winds come together, it breaks,” says elder Dennis Gibuma on Boigu Island.
Photo: Brian Cassey/OxfamAUS

On Masig Island, a coral cay which lies to the south-east of Boigu, roads are being washed into the sea.

Hearing people talk about the impact of climate change on their culture and their connection to land and sea country was deeply confronting.

Joseph Billy is a fisherman from Masig (Yorke) Island. “Every year we see the land disappearing. Last five years, every year I have moved my shed back from the beach another few metres,” he told us.
Photo: Brian Cassey/OxfamAUS

The situation in the Torres Strait captures both the grave injustice of climate change and the resilience and courage of frontline communities.

Relocation is, understandably, considered an option of very last resort and communities want to do everything possible to remain on their islands.

Hilda Mosby, Masig (Yorke) Island resident.
Photo: Brian Cassey/OxfamAUS

“This is our home. No one is willing to leave, to lose their cultural ties, the love ones they have laid to rest here,” Masig (Yorke) Island resident, Hilda Mosby told us.

“We want to try everything we can to keep our community here.”

Phillip Lewis Mabo and Alan Passi, fisherman from Thursday Island. “If the coral dies out so do the fish. It’s the mother of all the animals. It doesn’t look the same now. It’s not what I remember,” says Alan.
Photo: Brian Cassey/OxfamAUS

The threat to the future of the Torres Strait Islands is all too real and the Australian government must do more.

There could be no more powerful call for stronger action from Australia to end its climate pollution and support communities on the frontline.

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