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MRG welcomes long overdue ruling giving Torres Straits Islanders marine rights

7 July 2010

After a nine-year legal battle, Australia’s Federal Court has granted title rights to over 40,000 square km of ocean to indigenous islanders in the Torres Straits.

The win represents the largest successful indigenous title sea claim in Australian history and formally recognises the islanders’ spiritual connection with the sea.

In a report on Radio Australia, George Mye, a Torres Straits Islander, said, ‘To myself and the people of the Torres Strait, […] it's a big, big win.’

The Torres Straits lie between the northern tip of the Australian state of Queensland and Papua New Guinea, and consist of more than 250 islands.

The decision does not give Torres Straits Islanders any exclusive rights over the sea, nor were they claimed by the community. Ships, fishermen and other businesses will still be able to operate in the waters, but the ruling means that indigenous groups must be consulted on any future development of the area.

‘MRG welcomes this historic ruling which recognises not only indigenous peoples’ maritime culture and their traditional ties to the sea, but also crucially guarantees islanders’ access to its resources and full participation in its future use,’ said Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

The Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders have lived in the islands north of Queensland for at least 10,000 years and are closely related to the nearby Papuan people of Papua New Guinea. There are some 6,800 Torres Strait Islanders living in the region.