Ten years ago Jackson and Gennie Ahwang would walk their three children from their Poruma Island home through a coconut plantation to the water’s edge.
A metre-high wall of sandbags is now all that stands between high tide and their back door.
Sandbags were laid down by Torres Strait Island Regional Council officials in 2015 to stop the sea from claiming their home, after the coconut plantation gradually washed away.
“We wanted them to do some work on the house, to renovate it, but they said they can’t do the work in that particular yard because of the erosion,” Ms Ahwang said.
“So we need to try to stay there in that house, or we put in for a new place.”
The Ahwangs are one of six Poruma Island families who fear they will lose everything because of rising sea levels.
“If this continues eventually it will not only take away our possessions, it will take away our house itself, all that we have,” Mr Ahwang said.
On Iama Island, fears of being washed away have prompted some families to leave their homes for higher ground.
Iama Island Councillor Getano Lui says it has led to overcrowding.
He is calling on the Queensland and federal governments to provide $10 million each in immediate funding for sea walls on Boigu and Poruma islands, and scoping works on Iama, Masig and Warraber islands.
“Nobody knows what happens with mother nature,” Cr Lui said.
“Things are happening and it’s becoming more apparent that it’s unpredictable.”
Cr Lui and other Torres Strait Island Regional Council officials travelled to Canberra last week to lobby Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, Leichhardt MP Warren Enstch, Labor MPs and crossbench senators.
But he says he left disappointed.
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“I don’t like the Torres Strait being used as a political football between the state and the commonwealth about whose responsibility this is,” Cr Lui said.
“Something needs to be done.”
Cr Lui says communities are afraid of being relocated, and that a longer-term approach is needed.
“There is no way we will abandon these islands for any purposes,” he said.
“If you pull the plug in the Torres Strait and it sinks, we will sink.”
Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion, pictured here at a school in Arnhem Land. Source: AAP
Mr Scullion says the federal government has contributed $26 million towards the construction of sea walls in the Torres Strait, and wants an audit before further investment.
Poruma Island resident Phillemon Mosby says employment and training opportunities are struggling to get off the ground.
“On Poruma Island there are only two main industries, fishing and tourism,” he said.
“With tourism, the impact of erosion is stopping us from developing that industry.”