My name is Kabay Tamu, I’m a sixth-generation Warraber man from the Kulkalgal Nation, Central Torres Strait. My island home of Warraber experiences climate impacts everyday, this has been happening for decades here. I remember building seawalls with my uncles as a kid, to try to protect our island from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Image: Kabay Tamu by Greg Nelson
Under our stewardship are marine reserves and traditional fishing areas that are home to rare species of turtles and dugongs.
The islands of Zenadth Kes have been continuously inhabited by our ancestors for tens of thousands of years. Warraber is home to about 250 people. The island is 1.4km long, and half as wide, but shrinking fast due to climate change.
Image: Warraber, Greg Nelson
Rising seas caused by man-made climate change are threatening our homes, swamping burial grounds and washing away sacred cultural sites. As we watch the steady erosion of our coastlines, we witness our communities being inundated, infrastructure damaged, sea walls and flood defences breached, fresh water wells contaminated and plants and crops spoiled.
Rising sea temperatures are also affecting the marine environments we rely on. We are witnessing more coral bleaching and ocean acidification. This is damaging the reefs and marine life that are vital for the ecosystem.
The urgency of the situation is clear.
Image: Quote by Kabay Tamu.
If these climate impacts continue, our fear is that – without urgent action – our islands could be uninhabitable in our lifetimes. When erosion caused by climate change happens and the lands get taken away by the sea, it’s like a piece of us that gets taken with it - a piece of our heart.
Most of the beach where I grew up playing with friends has now been washed away, along with several enormous Wongai trees on the shoreline. Scientists have suggested that sea levels in the Torres Strait could be rising at twice the global rate.
Image: Kabay’s niece Clara Tamu playing on the beach by Greg Nelson
Climate justice means recognising that Torres Strait Islander communities contribute the least to climate change, but are feeling its effects the most. This issue is so important to us in the region and is something that weighs heavily on our hearts. The risk of being forcibly removed from Warraber because of rising sea levels and the effects of climate change really haunts my mind.
Temporary actions like building sea walls only buys us a short amount of time - the best fix is emissions reduction. I do not want to be forced to become a climate change refugee because of the Australian Government’s inaction. And this is why I am calling for the Australian Government to take climate change seriously and immediately reduce their carbon emissions. We need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels. In the Torres Strait we are already taking steps to transition to renewable energy.
Torres Strait Islanders as a people, are connected to our islands through our cultural practices and traditions. If our connection to these lands disappears, our Indigenous culture disappears.
Image: Kabay’s mum Clara Tamu weaving by Karl Bouro
Australia has one of the world’s worst track records for climate inaction and it is currently violating its legal obligation to Torres Strait people.
Under the first global United Nations treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we have a right to culture, the right to a family and the right to life.
These rights are under threat from the Australian government’s lack of climate action and its failure to help our communities adapt. Across the globe, other countries have stepped up to play their role in climate action, yet this is not what we see here in Australia. Our leaders need to understand their responsibility to Indigenous people who are on the climate frontline in Australia.
We have a right to practice our culture in our traditional homeland, where we belong. Our culture has a value that no money could ever compensate for.
Image: Zogo Tudi Dancers, photo supplied
If we must move away due to climate change, this is colonisation all over again. The connection that we have to the land and the sea - you cannot put a price on this. With every high tide and every monsoon season we experience coastal erosion. We lose meters of land all the time, especially with the high tides, severe weather and rough winds that are now more frequent with a changing climate.
We want our kids to be able to practice their traditions and their culture without the impact of climate change hanging over their shoulders. Our children deserve to always have a place to call home for generations to come.
Image: Dylan Mooney
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kabay Tamu is one of the claimants from the landmark Torres Strait 8 case and writes this blog from his island home of Warraber. Kabay attracted international headlines when he asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit Warraber during the 2019 UN climate summit in New York. The Prime Minister declined Kabay’s invitation.
Our Islands Our Home is a campaign led by Torres Strait Islanders to protect their island homes from climate change. As part of this campaign, eight claimants from Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait) also known as the Torres Strait 8 have brought a human rights complaint against the Australian Federal Government. The complaint was submitted to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations over the Government’s inaction on climate change.
Support the #TorresStrait8 as they take their case against the Australian Government to the United Nations for inaction on climate change.
Write your personal message to the local member of Parliament for the Torres Strait, Warren Entsch.
Show solidarity with the #TorresStrait8 by chipping in to power the Our Islands Our Home campaign.
Your donation will support Torres Strait Islanders to build community support, run creative tactics, hire Torres Strait Islander organisers in Zenadth Kes & fund the #TorresStrait8 to share their case with parliamentarians and more.