Torres Strait

Torres Strait

The Torres Strait is a body of water which lies between Australia and the Melanesian island of New Guinea. It is approximately 150 km wide at its narrowest extent. To the south is Cape York Peninsula, the northernmost continental extremity of the Australian state of Queensland. To the north is the Western Province of the independent state of Papua New Guinea.


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 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, known by dialect names : Kala Lagaw Ya/Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kawalgaw Ya/Kulkalgaw Ya, and Meriam Mir, as well as Brokan [Broken] , 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.


The islands of the Torres Strait have been inhabited for at least 2,500 years, and possibly much longer.cite web|url=|title=History of Torres Strait to 1879 - a regional view|author=John Burton|publisher=Torres Strait Regional Authority|accessdate=2008-04-13]

The first recorded European navigation of the strait was by Luis Váez de Torres, a Spanish seaman who was second-in-command on the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernandez de Quirós who sailed from Peru to the South Pacific in 1605. After Quiros's ship returned to Mexico, Torres resumed the intended voyage to Manila via the Moluccas. He sailed along the south coast of New Guinea, and may also have sighted the northernmost extremity of the Australian mainland, however no specific records exist that indicate he did so.

In 1769 the Scottish geographer Alexander Dalrymple found Torres' report of this voyage in Manila, and it was he who named the strait after Torres. This information was later made use of by Captain James Cook. In 1770 Cook claimed the whole of eastern Australia for the British Crown, and sailed through the strait after proceeding up the eastern coast of the continent. The London Missionary Society arrived on Erub (Darnley Island) in 1871. Although some of the Torres Strait islands lie just off the coast of New Guinea, they were annexed in 1879 by Queensland, then a British colony.

There was an important pearling industry from the 1860s until about 1970 when it collapsed in the face of competition from the plastics industry. Pearl-shelling was responsible for the arrival of experienced divers from many countries, notably Japan. [Ganter, Regina. (1994). "The Pearl-Shellers of Torres Strait: Resource Use, Development and Decline, 1860s-1960s". Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-84547-9.]

In 1978 an agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea determined the maritime border in the Torres Strait. [for a detailed map see cite web|url=|title=Australia's Maritime Zones in the Torres Strait|publisher=Australian Government - Geoscience Australia|format=PDF|accessdate=2008-04-13,
for the agreement see cite web|url=|title=Treaty between Australia and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea concerning sovereignty and maritime boundaries in the area between the two countries, including the area known as Torres Strait, and related matters, 18 December 1978|publisher=United Nations|format=PDF|accessdate=2008-04-13

Torres Strait is mentioned in Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" as a dangerous strait where the submarine, the Nautilus, is briefly stranded.

Illegal Immigration

Due to the proximity to the Papua New Guinea mainland the northern Torres Strait islands have been experiencing significant numbers of illegal long-term residents from Papua New Guinea, putting significant strain on scarce local resources such as fresh water. In November 2007 community leaders held emergency talks with Australian immigration officials with a view to having illegal residents returned to Papua New Guinea. [cite news|url=|title=Illegal PNG immigrants to be deported|publisher=National Nine News|date=2008-11-28] [cite news|url=|title= Minister reduced to tears|publisher=Torres News|date=2007-12-12]

ee also

* Birds of Boigu, Saibai and Dauan Islands (Torres Strait)
* Torres Strait Islands


Singe, John. (2003). "My Island Home: A Torres Strait Memoir". University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0-7022-3305-6

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Torres Strait — [tôr′iz, tär′iz] strait between New Guinea & NE Australia: c. 95 mi (153 km) wide …   English World dictionary

  • Torres-Strait — Satellitenbild der Meerenge zwischen der Kap York Halbinsel und Neuguinea Die Torres Straße (auch Straße von Torres) ist eine Meerenge zwischen der nordostaustralischen Halbinsel Cape York und der Südküste von Neuguinea, genauer der Western… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Torres Strait — Satellitenbild der Meerenge zwischen der Kap York Halbinsel und Neuguinea Die Torres Straße (auch Straße von Torres) ist eine Meerenge zwischen der nordostaustralischen Halbinsel Cape York und der Südküste von Neuguinea, genauer der Western… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Torres Strait — /tawr iz, tor / a strait between NE Australia and S New Guinea. 80 mi. (130 km) wide. * * * Passage between the island of New Guinea and Australia s Cape York Peninsula. It connects the Coral Sea and the Arafura Sea. It was discovered in 1606 by… …   Universalium

  • Torres Strait — noun A strait between Australia and New Guinea, connecting the Coral Sea with the Arafura Sea. See Also: Torres Strait Creole …   Wiktionary

  • Torres Strait — Tor′res Strait′ [[t]ˈtɔr ɪz, ˈtɒr [/t]] n. geg a strait between NE Australia and S New Guinea. 80 mi. (130 km) wide …   From formal English to slang

  • Torres Strait — noun a strait between northeastern Australia and southern New Guinea that connects the Coral Sea with the Arafura Sea • Instance Hypernyms: ↑strait, ↑sound …   Useful english dictionary

  • Torres Strait — geographical name strait 80 miles (129 kilometers) wide between island of New Guinea & N tip of Cape York Peninsula, Australia …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Torres Strait — /tɒrəz ˈstreɪt/ (say toruhz strayt) noun a stretch of water extending between Cape York Peninsula, Qld and PNG s southern coast. {named after Luis Vaez de Torres} …   Australian-English dictionary

  • TORRES STRAIT —    separates Australia from New Guinea, 80 m. broad, and from its numerous islands, shoals, and reefs is exceedingly difficult to navigate …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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