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Unlocking the memories of islands' tides of change

Torres Strait island of Saibai
About 7000 indigenous people live in 17 of the Torres Strait islands. The region, which is made up of more than 100 islands, is considered particularly vulnerable to climate change, with some islands just a metre or two above sea level. Flooding that has affected several islands in recent years — caused by high tides and strong winds — is expected to become more frequent with rising sea levels, extreme weather and the increasing intensity of tropical cyclones. Other potential impacts include less predictable winds and currents that could affect fishing, and threats to human health such as an increase in disease transmitters like dengue-carrying mosquitoes. On the island of Saibai, tides never used to reach the village. It was not until 1947 that the water touched homes. Tropical cyclones used to be much closer to the Australian mainland. Now, they reach Torres Strait. Increasingly powerful storms are washing away long-established homes and graveyards. Locals have also noticed that the distribution of seaweed has changed, crayfish catches have become less predictable, and water spouts are not appearing as frequently as they once did.

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