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Experience of a lifetime inspires careers in the Torres Strait and beyond

Sea of opportunity: Tagai State College students on Orpheus Island.
Inspiring women in science: Left to right – Rubyann Sailor, Nina Lui, Moni Carlisle (TSRA), Madeina David (TSRA), Lucy Abednego and Ayesha Tom.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) is teaming up with Tagai State College to bridge the gap between classrooms and careers.

Since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, TSRA has sponsored local high school students living in the remote Torres Strait region, located between Cairns and Papua New Guinea, to travel south for eye-opening experiences.

In June 2022, four marine science and biology students joined TSRA Marine Biologist and Traditional Owner, Madeina David, on a field trip to the James Cook University’s (JCU) Orpheus Island Research Station, north of Townsville.

Students swapped school uniforms for stinger suits to conduct real-life marine research, including surveying coral.

Ms David, 24, said the experience gave students a glimpse into the wide world of science as a future career option.

“In the Torres Strait we grow up living by the ocean, surrounded by reef, coral cays and marine life without realising we do a type of science every day,’ Ms David said.

“The Torres Strait is like a real-life aquarium as the northernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, it is the dugong capital of the world and home to many of the world’s sea turtle species – 6 out of 7 in fact.

“We hope supporting students from remote island communities to take up work experience in science will inspire future careers in the industry, particularly for young women.”

For Ms David, the trip down memory lane was a reminder of her education journey, including the challenges of moving away from her remote island home of Iama (Yam Island) to pursue her degree with JCU Townsville.

“This was my first time back to Orpheus Island since a university trip in 2018,” she said.

“That trip came at a point in my university life when I was feeling homesick, unmotivated and was questioning whether I would finish my degree.”

Today, the graduate wants to see more young people from the islands dive into science at university.

She was among guest presenters at the 58th Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) Conference in Cairns this month (7-11 August) – the first face-to-face AMSA national meeting since Fremantle in 2019.

Building on the Orpheus Island experience, TSRA sponsored the four young women from Tagai State College to join more than 700 conference attendees and see their mentor on the big stage.

“I hope these experiences inspire the next generation of scientists from the Torres Strait,” Ms David said.

TSRA Chairperson Napau Pedro Stephen AM said Ms David’s presentation coincided with International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August 2022) and this year’s global theme, ‘the role of Indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge’.

“Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal peoples are the nation’s first scientists and we use science in all parts of life, from agriculture and conservation to fishing and ocean navigation,” Mr Stephen said.

“The TSRA is proud to support bright futures for aspiring young scientists from our region.”

Learn more about the TSRA at www.tsra.gov.au

Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people are advised this website may contain names, images and recordings of people who have passed.