A leading environmental expert has said the Australian islands three kilometers from the Papua New Guinea coastline are a major bio-security threat to the country. For bird flu coming in takes that route.
Dr Rohan Clarke of the Deakin University, has made several field trips to the Torres Strait to take samples from birds and study their migration patterns.
His research project is looking at rates and spread of avian malaria amongst birds in the region, with the aim of using this information to predict the way other diseases might travel throughout birds in Australia.
"Avian malaria is a common bird affliction. Although it is similar to human malaria, it doesn't affect people,'' he said.
During several trips to the Torres Strait, the research team has gathered 900 samples from different bird species, which will now be subject to molecular screening. However Dr Clarke said that blood-smears done on location show a high prevalence of malaria infection - about 30 per cent - making it an ideal study in disease transmission.
Dr Clarke said the Torres Strait is a major migration pathway for bush birds in Australia - those smaller birds which live in foliage.
"We are talking hundreds and thousands of birds moving back and forward across the strait each year.
"We can use this information to see how bird diseases might move around different areas and it has implications for our understanding of how bird flu might spread.
"If we are to get any major disease incursions into Australia, it is likely to come through this pathway,'' Dr Clarke said.