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Torres Strait and the Gulf of Papua
Huber, M.E. (2000). Torres Strait and the Gulf of Papua, in: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. pp. 593-610
In: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) (2000). Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. Pergamon: Amsterdam. ISBN 0-08-043207-7. XXI, 920 pp., more

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Document type: Review

Keyword
    Marine

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  • Huber, M.E.

Abstract
    The very shallow Torres Strait separates Australia and Papua New Guinea (pNG). The Gulf of Papua, to the northeast, is the northern extremity of the Coral Sea. The major physical driving forces affecting the area are strong tidal currents through Torres Strait and very large inputs of freshwater and sediment from rivers flowing into the Gulf of Papua. These rivers fonn large deltas along the Gulf of Papua. Torres Strait has about 600 fringing and patch coral reefs, which are characterised by an abundance of soft sediment on the reef tops. Reefs at the easternmost edge of the Strait represent the northern extension of the Great Barrier Reef and are less affected by sediment inputs. There are approximately 300,000 ha of relatively undisturbed mangrove forest in the deltas. Mangroves also occur on the Torres Strait islands, especially the northern ones, and in a fringe along the PNG coast west of Darn. There are large areas of seagrass in Torres Strait, both on reef tops and in inter-reefal areas. Soft-bottom benthic communities are found in the Gulf of Papua. Torres Strait has a variety of hard- and soft-bottom inter-reefal benthic communities, determined in large part by tidal current stress. The area has a total human population of about 60,000, mostly rural. Western Province has a high population growth rate, while out-migration restrains population growth in Gulf Province. Population growth in Torres Strait is concentrated on the outer islands. Torres Strait Islanders, as Australian citizens, enjoy a dramatically higher living standard than people living on the adjacent coastline of PNG, but a low one by Australian standards. Government allowances, government- related jobs, remittances from relatives, and artisanal fishing are the main sources of income in Torres Strait, where subsistence fishing is still an important source of food. The rural population in PNG lives a largely subsistence lifestyle; government jobs, remittances from relatives, and artisanal fishing are the main sources of cash incomes. Development pressure in the area is low, and the coastal and marine habitats remain largely intact, except for localised degradation around towns. The disposal of mine tailings into the Fly River system has caused concern, but studies reveal no adverse effects on coastal and marine environments. Upstream logging and agricultural development are potentially significant threats to the mangals of the Gulf of Papua deltas. There is potential for oil spills from a pipeline, offshore loading facility, and tanker operations. The bilaterally managed Torres Strait Protected Zone, established in part to provide for sustainable fisheries, encompasses most of Torres Strait. The main commercial fisheries, for prawns and rock lobster, appear to be sustainable under present conditions. Torres Strait stocks of pearl oysters, beche-de-mer, and trochus were severely overfished in the past, and beche-de- mer and barramundi have been severely overfished in PNG in recent years. These fisheries have for the most part not recovered. Other fisheries stocks are probably healthy, but this results from a lack of development more than effective management. The sustainability of traditional harvests of sea turtles and dugong is uncertain.

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