Environmental Humanities

Eco-Epistemologies of One Tree Island

Photo by Yongkiet Jitwattanatam on Shutterstock.

One Tree Island is a small coral cay in the southern Great Barrier Reef’s Capricorn Bunker that has been home to a scientific research station operated by the University of Sydney for almost fifty years. As one of select few coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with a scientific research license, One Tree Reef is one of the world’s cornerstones in coral ecology, geomorphology and tropical marine science studies.

The geographic isolation of islands, and particularly coral cays like One Tree that have been separated from continental mainlands for millennia, used to afford a protection of sorts, allowing for the flourishing of endemic biota and unique ecologies. These spaces are often envisaged as static paradisiacal spaces somewhat removed from the ecologically, geologically, culturally and politically fluid realities of the so-imagined rest of the world. However, both on and off their shores, islands are constantly in a state of change; boundaries and binaries between land and sea, visitor and inhabitant, threat and fortune are continuously and non-linearly redrawn and reimagined. The sensitivities to environmental change lend a great deal of resilience to these spaces, through adaptation, but entering the boundlessness of the Anthropocene, however, the effects of long-term, global and invisible threats like heatwaves, agricultural runoff and acidification accelerate and compound the fragility of spaces that are vulnerable to change.

Through a multi-disciplinary and intersectional lens, this project asks how uncertain and fluid spaces like One Tree are defined by science, human experience, memory, imagination, global politics, ecological inhabitants and geological histories, and how these epistemologies are framed and transmuted on the global stage. Through analysing processes and experiences of knowledge production within this space over the past decades, One Tree is taken as laboratory, ecosystem, cyborg, commodity and political microcosm where questions of the past, and future, coalesce in surprising ways.

This project is being led by Liberty Lawson, a PhD Candidate with the Sydney Environment Institute.