Australia's Torres Strait Islands have been hit by a literal perfect storm, causing devastating floods. In a world where natural disasters are common, ones where there have been no deaths don't always get attention. However, these floods provide a frightening preview of the future for island populations worldwide as climate change accelerates, and of governmental failure.
There are more than 200 small islands, 14 of them inhabited, in the Torres Strait, which separates Australia from Papua New Guinea. The islands are legally part of Australia, and have a unique culture.
Some of the islands never rise more than a meter (3 feet) above sea level, making them very vulnerable to unusually high tides, like those that occur when the Moon is either full or new. When this happens the gravitational influence of the Sun and Moon combine, rather than counteracting. If this occurs when the Moon's in the closest part of its orbit its pull is magnified, creating a “King Tide”.
While half the world was enjoying the supermoon eclipse, low islands worldwide were struggling with the resulting King Tide, worsened in the Torres Strait by the monsoon rains. Climate change-induced sea level rise has removed what little protection the lower islands previously had.
As a 3.84-meter (12.6-feet) high tide inundated Yam Island, residents put film footage of waves rushing through their homes on Facebook as a cry for help. The disaster was so intense house roofs are reportedly covered in coral washed in from the sea.
Yam Island resident Ben Songoro told The Cairns Post; “It has never been this bad. It floods every year, but this is the worst one we’ve ever had.”
Some of the islands have seawalls, but most are decades old and completely inadequate for current conditions. Saibai, which was provided with a modern seawall last year survived relatively unscathed, yet even there one house was flooded.
The Queensland State Government has promised assistance, and Sea Swift, which provides shipping services to the islands, has offered to transport donated goods from Cairns for free. On the other hand, nothing has been heard from the Australian Government, who perhaps given their attitude to global warming simply assume the floods can't be real, a situation reminiscent of the neglect of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria compared to mainland cities.
Many islands based on coral reefs, notably in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, are similarly low and regarded as among the locations most threatened by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has marked the Torres Strait as particularly vulnerable, but similar events are widespread in places that lack the means to alert the world to their fate.
[H/T: Welcome To Country]