Torres Strait - Geography

Geography

The strait links the Coral Sea to the east with the Arafura Sea in the west. Although it is an important international sea lane, it is very shallow, and the maze of reefs and islands can make it hazardous to navigate. In the south the Endeavour Strait is located between Prince of Wales Island (Muralug) and the mainland.

Several clusters of islands lie in the Strait, collectively called the Torres Strait Islands. There are at least 274 of these islands, of which 17 have present-day permanent settlements. Over 6,800 Torres Strait Islanders live on the Islands and 42,000 live on the mainland.

These islands have a variety of topographies, ecosystems and formation history. Several of those closest to the New Guinea coastline are low-lying, formed by alluvial sedimentary deposits borne by the outflow of the local rivers into the sea. Many of the western islands are hilly and steep, formed mainly of granite, and are peaks of the northernmost extension of the Great Dividing Range now turned into islands when sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. The central islands are predominantly coral cays, and those of the east are of volcanic origins. The islands are considered Australian territory and are administered from Thursday Island.

The islands' indigenous inhabitants are the Torres Strait Islanders, Melanesian peoples related to the Papuans of adjoining New Guinea. The various Torres Strait Islander communities have a distinct culture and long-standing history with the islands and nearby coastlines. Their maritime-based trade and interactions with the Papuans to the north and the Australian Aboriginal communities have maintained a steady cultural diffusion between the three societal groups, dating back thousands of years at least.

Two indigenous languages are spoken on the Torres Strait Islands: Kala Lagaw Ya/Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kawalgau Ya/Muwalgau Ya/Kulkalgau Ya, and Meriam Mir, as well as Brokan, otherwise called Torres Strait Creole. In the 2001 Australian national census, the population of the islands was recorded as 8,089, though many more live outside of Torres Strait in Australia.

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