The islands of the Torres Strait are facing rapid changes, such as sea level rise and the impacts of development in neighbouring Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. This project helps residents to plan for these changes in a way that fits their culture and will bring benefits under all possible scenarios.
A rapidly changing world
Many of the low-lying islands in the Torres Strait Protected Zone are highly vulnerable to sea level rise. This, combined with other rapid changes, including increased shipping traffic, a growing population in neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG), and potential pollution as a result of rapid mining and resources development in PNG and Indonesia, could threaten the future sustainability of these communities.
New participatory planning approach
To deal with these challenges, communities need to plan for the potential combined impacts of environmental and economic changes on Torres Strait islands. There are no planning processes in place in the region to anticipate these impacts and design appropriate adaptation strategies. CSIRO partnered with the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), funded by the National Environmental Research Program Tropical Ecosystems Hub, in a participatory planning project. This brought together Torres Strait communities, national, state and local government, NGOs and businesses, to design strategies that would enable communities to withstand and adapt to both long term change and sudden shocks.
The project aimed to test a multi-stakeholder planning approach that could be applied by the TSRA's Community Adaptation Program, and also in vulnerable coastal villages of neighbouring PNG.The team developed a novel multi-stakeholder participatory planning method and tools, a range of strategies flexible enough to deliver benefits under any future conditions, and a model of the Torres Strait region highlighting the variables that contribute to resilience.
Results showed that multi-stakeholder participatory planning built leadership and trust amongst the research team and participants. New social networks and innovative ideas were also generated by the process.
The TSRA is applying the project's tools and processes in its Community Adaptation Program, and the Queensland Government's Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs has recommended a modified community consultation process for the state's Torres Strait Planning Scheme to include adaptation strategies. The Joint Advisory Council of the Torres Strait Treaty also endorsed the planning approach.