Shanella's story: Climate change makes me worried about my elders and family

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By Shanella Majid

Shanella Majid is a 22-year-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman who owns Salty Curls, and loves photography and art. She is a Wuthathi and Thursday Island woman, and she lives in Seisia with her partner, two sons and her dog Kitana.

Climate change makes me feel a lot of different things at once. It makes me worried about my elders and family on the islands in the Torres Strait.

I feel stressed about the idea that my elders and family will have to leave their home island and move to the city as the tides keep rising and taking everything with them. And I fear for the future generations of Torres Strait Islander people, because I want them to be able to see our beautiful land and to live from it, as I have.

How climate change affects Torres Strait Islander people

Over the years, the rising tides have got bigger and are starting to flood yards and houses on the outer islands of the Torres Strait.

The beaches of Seisia are getting washed away. New sandbanks are appearing from when the tides drag the sand out, leaving a bit more mud behind. Reefs are getting covered by sand or mud.

Tree roots are starting to appear, and trees are now getting washed out with the tides. The rising tides leave a whole heap of rubbish behind, from gas bottles and ghost nets to bottles, cans, needles, etc.

Will we have to leave our land?

I’m worried and stressed that a lot of families will have to relocate and find new jobs, homes, schools and houses. This makes my heart feel heavy.

It’s expensive to move from the islands as a family, so cost can be a big issue. A lot of families are only used to living in small communities by the sea and using it as a main resource for their food supply. Climate change is having a big effect on this. As the sea levels rise and water gets warmer, this slowly reduces food sources from the sea. The reefs are dying, and the native animals are slowly disappearing. If the islands go underwater, then we lose our sacred land, houses, cars, historical landmarks and a part of our culture.

Food safety and traditional hunting

Traditional hunting will become harder, and hunters will have to go further to hunt to bring food back for their families.

Throughout my life I was always taught how to live by the sea, and that if we got heaps of fish, crayfish or anything else to always share it with our relatives and neighbours.

The reefs I used to swim on when I was 8 years old have now died or only have a little life left on them. Animal life seems to have disappeared and died off. The reef seems to have no colour.

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Coping with bushfires and water restrictions

Even living on the mainland, we seem to be struggling with climate change and the ongoing challenges that come with it.

We are suffering more heatwaves. Horses seem to roam more in the community, looking for water. Water levels seem to be getting lower each year, making communities put restrictions on water usage. There are more bushfires in and near the community, and this has become one of the biggest issues over the last year.

We only have a few local volunteer firefighters in the Northern Area Peninsula (NPA) area that must take care of our five communities. Heatwaves are the biggest cause of the land dying, making it easier for fires to start, either from the sun or from a small spark, and then to spread quite quickly. A large amount of smoke in the air from fires is very bad for our local people with health conditions.

Our elders and young babies seem to always get badly sick from inhaling smoke.

Community members' health is a big worry for me and breaks my heart.

I fear for the future generations of my community

My biggest fear is that my children won’t be able to see the beauty of the Torres Strait islands or to visit the islands their family comes from. I fear they won’t experience the trees swaying in the wind while the sea crashes on the beach. These sounds are peaceful and relaxing to the soul. And I fear they won’t experience the way plants give off such a natural scent of nature.

My heart aches when I think of the family members who have passed on, who will have to get left behind if the locals have to evacuate from their home islands. Families won’t be able to visit their relatives at the cemetery or put a headstone on the graves of some of their relatives who have passed. This will then make it harder for families who still grieve the death of their loved ones.

How I manage my climate anxiety

Climate change has a big impact on my community’s physical health, but climate anxiety has an enormous impact on our mental health, too. Because this is an ongoing issue with no end in sight, I have a few things I do to help manage the stress and anxiety I feel about climate change.

They include:

  • talking to family and elders

  • talking to friends who feel the same way as this validates how I feel

  • protesting/doing my part to make change

  • caring for myself and treating myself to something nice, like a candle – that way, I have the slight scent of a plant, fruit or ocean to remind me of home

  • cleaning the pollution off the beach, especially the rubbish that's been getting washed up

  • sitting down at the beach looking out at the water

  • planting new plants, like coconut trees on the beachside

  • going for a run or training near the beach, just to smell the salty air and feel the wind

  • fishing, which helps me to relax and deal with unwanted feelings.

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Climate change is a very important issue that needs to be resolved. So many people experience climate anxiety because it is scary and it is very real.

We cannot ignore what is happening – we need to make changes so that everyone today, and our future generations, can live safe and peaceful lives. We need to make change now, so the communities on the islands in the Torres Strait don’t lose our land and our beautiful island homes.

What can I do now?

  • You can learn more about climate anxiety in our ‘everything you need to know’ guide here.

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