Torres Straits Islands 2

Torres Straits Islands

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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 end 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.

Torres Strait Islands Map
Torres Strait Islands Map

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.

Economy:

The local economy is extremely limited.  Only small areas of the islands are suited to agriculture and what crops are grown are subsistence items supplemented with some sea mammals and fish.  There is no industry on the islands although there is some production of handicrafts, items which were once trade goods.  Islanders who wish to participate in the cash economy must migrate to other parts of Australia.

Trading Canoe Darnley Island 1849
Trading Canoe Darnley Island 1849

Transportation:

Plane:

Qantaslink has daily flights from Cairns to Horn Island. The two ferry companies that transfer to Thursday Island both meet every Cairns flight arrival, with transfers to the wharf, and connecting services to Thursday Island. From Thursday Island you can arrange a boat to some other islands. For some you’ll need to get permission from the land council before you travel. The ferry costs $9 for the McDonalds ferry $10 for the Rebel ferry. The bus transfer to the airport costs more than the ferry, around $12-$13 each way.

Thursday Island Town
Thursday Island Town

Ferry:

Peddell’s Ferries provides twice daily passenger transport by boat to Thursday Island from Seisia, on the mainland at Cape York. The services operate 3 days a week during the wet, and six days a week in the dry season. Check their website for up-to-date timetables and fares. Tickets can be booked online. Seisia itself is usually completely isolated by road during the wet season.

Boat:

Sea Swift operate two freighters to many of the Torres Strait islands from Cairns and down the Cape as far as Weipa. The freighters carry up to eight passengers.

Those intent on a road trip can get a barge from Seisia on Cape York.

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