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5/05/2008

Australia's climate change victims

Breaking Earth News
Image:
Masig Island, one of the low-lying islands of the Torres Strait

TORRES STRAIT, AUSTRALIA -
Like Kiribati and Tuvalu, the islands of the Torres Strait are slowly being submerged. But unlike their Pacific neighbours, the plight of their inhabitants is being overlooked. Islanders in the Torres Strait, which lies between the far north-eastern tip of the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea, have witnessed higher tides in recent years than they have ever seen before. Houses, roads and graveyards have been flooded, and the locals believe they know the reason: climate change. About 7,000 people live on the islands, 18 of which are inhabited. Abnormally high tides are not the only phenomenon that the islanders have observed. The seasons are shifting, and the land is eroding. Birds' migration patterns have altered, and the turtles and dugongs (sea cow) that are traditionally hunted for meat have grown scarce. People are no longer certain when to plant their crops: cassava, yams, sugarcane, bananas, sweet potato. "We see the big trees near the beach, like the wongai trees, falling down. The seagrass that the dugongs eat, you used to find long patches of it, but not any more. The corals are dying, and the sand is getting swept away and exposing the rock. "We were taught by our grandfathers and fathers to read the sky and forecast the weather. You see this cloud, you go to your garden and start planting. You see that cloud, it's time to clear your land. But nowadays the weather is unpredictable." Others report that the rainy season is rainier, the dry season drier. And the marine life is behaving oddly. "We were told there's an iceberg melting and the level of the sea is going up. We don't know how we will survive. Our island is only flat, and the water seems to be taking all the land."


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