Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saibai under water, but not due to sea level rise.

Saibai Island is one of our northernmost islands in the Torres Strait, its a low lying mud-flat island closer to New Guinea than the Australian mainland. When Australia relinquished it's administration of Papua New Guinea, the inhabitants of Saibai were given the choice of which country they would like to be a part of, and rather unaminously voted to be a part of Australia.

Saibai has been recently inundated by king tides, which naturally is being attributed to rising sea levels due to climate change. Theres just a couple of problems with this:

  • The other is that this has happened to Saibai before. King tides happen yearly, and in the 1940's a combination of king tides and storm surges inundated Saibai and contaminated the water supply, forcing many of the islanders to relocate to mainland Australia. Hence the Cape York communities of Bamaga and Seisia, which are ethnically Torres Strait Islander, rather than Aboriginal.

Saibai suddenly being inundated tends to be a combination of factors, including annual king tides, heavy rainfall and strong winds, for example from cyclones and strong tropical low pressure systems. To have a look at the current cyclone season, look here. If you looking at this at the time of posting, you can see tropical cyclone Olga has been busy dumping rain on most of far north Queensland and the cape, and she is currently reforming in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Saibai had the misfortune of having this storm activity accompany the annual king tides.

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