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New seawall to help climate resilience on Poruma

Dechlan Brennan -

The opening of a new $5 million seawall in the Torres Strait community of Poruma (Coconut Island) will provide a boost for climate resilience in the area.

The one-kilometre long Poruma Seawall has been completed to help mitigate both erosion of the low-lying coral cay island community - home to only 164 residents - as well as mitigate coastal flooding, and supported up to nine local fulltime jobs during the construction phase of the project.

The community, which is more than 93 per cent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, is one of five island communities to benefit from a seawall package, with Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney saying the project was a joint effort from all levels of government.

"The new Poruma Seawall will better protect the community's island home from the impacts of rising sea levels, erosion, high tides and severe weather events," Minister Burney said.

"Our shared commitment to making a practical difference on the ground, including local jobs for local people during construction, shows we deliver best when all levels of government listen to community, work together and deliver on local-led climate priorities in the Torres Strait."

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Chairperson, Napau Pedro Stephen, said the project was implemented with significant consultation with locals.

"Thank you to the people of Poruma for their patience and perseverance over many years during consultation, design, project delivery and now completion," Mr Stephen said.

"This is a critical climate initiative for our region with sea levels rising at about three times the rate of the global average in the Torres Strait."

Poruma itself is approximately 2 km long by 300m wide, and multiple reports have indicated climate change - especially the resulting rising sea levels - are an existential threat to the region.

TSIRC Mayor Phillemon Mosby speaks at the opening (Image: TSRA ICT Services)

Torres Strait Island Regional Council (TSIRC) Mayor, Phillemon Mosby, said the seawall was already showing its impact withstanding the recent king tides.

"Seawalls are critical in helping safeguard not only our homes and vital infrastructure – such as roads, health and education facilities – but also our culture and livelihoods," he said.

The project included more than 5600 two-tonne geotextile sandbags, filled with sand from the Poruma beaches. The maintenance of the geotextile sandbags - which the government says are "more durable, cost effective, ecologically sustainable" as well as offering a better practical long-term solution than regular sandbags - will be run in the long-term by a newly-trained regional workforce.

Queensland's Minister for State Development and Infrastructure, Grace Grace, highlighted the importance of the seawall for the region's climate resilience, with the state the most disaster-affected jurisdiction in Australia.

"[The] recent cyclones, storms and floods mean we must prioritise our preparation, investment and response to natural disasters," the minister said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission previously said of the risks to the region: "Torres Strait [I]slanders (sic) and remote [I]ndigenous (sic) communities have the highest risks and the lowest adaptive capacity of any in our community because of their relative isolation and limited access to support facilities. In some cases the Torres Strait islands are already at risk from inundation".


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