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Torres Strait Islands

The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea. Only 14 of the islands are inhabited. The indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands are the Torres Strait Islanders, an ethnically Melanesian people who also inhabited the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula, distinct from the Australian Aboriginals who are the Indigenous Australians in the rest of the country.

The area was formerly a land bridge spanning the area from northern Australia to New Guinea and the islands are the remaining peaks following a period of water levels rising 12,000 years ago…..The Spanish navigator Luís Vaez de Torres explored Torres Strait in 1606. Torres had joined the Queirós expedition which sailed from Peru across the Pacific Ocean in search of Terra Australis. Lieutenant James Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia at Possession Island in 1770. The region is unique in terms of its political borders. Whilst all the islands and their inhabitants are Australian, there is a maritime border which runs through the centre of the islands meaning that in practice there is an ongoing co-management of resources in this region. In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders from Mer (Murray Island) started legal proceedings to establish their traditional land-ownership. Because Mabo was the first-named plaintiff, it became known as the Mabo Case. In 1992, after ten years of hearings before the Queensland Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia, the latter court found that Mer people had owned their land prior to annexation by Queensland. This ruling overturned the long-established legal doctrine of terra nullius ("no-one's land"), which held that native title over Crown land in Australia had been extinguished at the time of annexation. The ruling thus had far-reaching significance for the land claims of both Torres Strait Islanders and Australian Aborigines.

The islands and their surrounding waters and reefs provide a highly diverse set of land and marine ecosystems, with niches for many rare or unique species. Saltwater crocodiles inhabit the islands along with neighboring areas of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Marine animals of the islands include dugongs (an endangered species of sea mammal widely found throughout the Indian Ocean and tropical Western Pacific, including Papua-New Guinean and Australian waters), as well as green, ridley, hawksbill and flatback sea turtles.

Photo Credit: Cathy Finch/Australian Geographic

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For over 30 years Coral Expeditions has had one purpose – taking small groups of like-minded explorers to the most remote parts of the world, with expert guidance and warm Australian hospitality. Coral Expeditions was founded by a fisherman with a passion for the sea. Then named Coral Princess Cruises, the small North Queensland based company explored the Great Barrier Reef and pioneered small ship expedition cruising to the Kimberley and Papua New Guinea. Today, Coral Expeditions has grown to include voyages to Tasmania, Islands of the South Pacific, New Zealand, and the Indonesian Archipelago. Our Australian crew provide warm hospitality and personal service on board. Shore-rich itineraries in remote locations allow our guests to be immersed in local cultures, get close to wildlife, and enjoy adventurous land and sea activities in safety. We invite you to celebrate 35 years of exploration with us.

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