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.
The islands are mostly part of Queensland, a constituent State of the Commonwealth of Australia, with a special status fitting the native (Melanesian) land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority. A few islands very close to the coast of mainland New Guinea belong to the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, most importantly Daru Island with the provincial capital, Daru.
Only 14 of the islands are inhabited, with many of the islands threatened by rising sea levels.
The islands span an area of some 48 000 km2. The strait from Cape York to New Guinea has a width of approximately 150 kilometres at its narrowest point; the islands lie scattered in between, extending some 200–300 kilometres from furthest east to furthest west. The total land area of the islands comprises 566 km2. 21,784 ha of land are used for agricultural purposes.
The Torres Strait itself was formerly a land bridge which connected the present-day Australian continent with New Guinea (in a single landmass called Sahul, Meganesia, Australia-New Guinea). This land bridge was most recently submerged by rising sea levels at the termination of the last ice-age glaciation (approximately 12,000 years ago), forming the Strait which now connects the Arafura and Coral seas. Many of the western Torres Strait Islands are the remaining peaks of this land bridge which were not completely submerged when the ocean levels rose.
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.
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