2017-07-15 01:00:02 UTC
Saibai islanders celebrate new $24.5m seawall to fight rising ocean
levels in Torres Strait
The new seawall:
The old seawall wasn't doing it:
15 Jul 2017 00:03Z
People on the Torres Strait's largest island of Saibai are celebrating
a long-awaited seawall after more than a decade of pleading, but the
future is less certain for other sinking island communities.
Saibai is a low-lying mud island just a short dinghy trip from Papua
New Guinea, which has been struggling with rising sea levels, land
erosion and king tides for years.
At the peak of the crisis, there were fears that the entire community
of 350 people would need to be relocated.
Its cemetery became a symbol of this crisis when graves started being
"The flood and the rain - it overflows the land," local fisherman
Durua Durua told the ABC this week.
In 2012, the Torres Strait Island Regional Council concluded it would
cost $22 mn to build seawalls and upgrade infrastructure on
Saibai and 5 other Torres Strait islands suffering from rising sea
Two years later, the Federal and Queensland govts pledged $26.2
mn for these islands under the Torres Strait Seawalls project.
This week, the first seawall built with that money was unveiled on
Saibai, to much celebration of residents.
Speaking to crowds on Saibai, Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)
chairman Napau Pedro Stephens said the island was used to being
ignored, but that had changed with the seawall's construction.
"We have global thinking, but we act locally - this is a project that
really defines that saying," he said.
Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Partnerships Mark Furner said it would help the community.
"It's a project that will protect the community, protect the
culture, protect the homes and also the livelihoods of all those
people," he said.
The seawall is forecast to protect Saibai from inundation for 50
years. Saibai seawall came at large price with cost blowouts
But after cost blowouts mostly linked to the sourcing of rock, it came
at a very large price - $24.5 mn.
This leaves just a few mn in the coffers for the other Torres
Strait islands that are still in danger of being lost, as sea levels
continue to rise by millimetres each year.
Federal MP Warren Entsch, who helped bring Saibai's plight to national
attention, said the Commonwealth still wanted to help the other five
Yet Mr Entsch said the devil was in the detail when it came to
committing extra money.
"How long is a piece of string? We were guaranteed that the cost
that we put up [last time] would cover the 6 islands," he said.
"Torres Strait island council is the one that managed the Saibai
contract - that's the reality."
It was the same response from Mr Furner, who could not put a dollar
figure on how much would be committed.
"Not at this stage - I think we need to see the scoping work on those
other islands," he said.
'Time is very critical' to protect other islands
Torres Strait Mayor Fred Gela said costings were underway on seawalls
for several islands and preliminary talks with funding bodies were
"All we can do is work closely with state and Commonwealth and the
likes of TSRA - we've had some very good productive preliminary
discussions already," he said.
Yet Councillor Gela also said that time was of the essence, especially
when it came the narrow coral island of Poruma, to the south of Saibai.
"Time is very critical in terms of getting some work underway so
we can actually protect and combat erosion at Poruma - Poruma
doesn't have time to wait," he said.
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Saibai islanders celebrate new seawall to fight rising ocean levels
ABC News, 15 Jul 2017 00:03Z
People on the Torres Strait's largest island of Saibai celebrate a long-
awaited seawall after more than a decade of pleading, but the future is less
certain for other sinking island communities.