Category 2

Exploring Ocean Imaginaries


Project Summary

Using the interdisciplinary methods and approaches of the environmental humanities, we are exploring and analyzing the stories, theories and representations describing Western and Indigenous relationships with the oceans — above and below water — from the seventeenth-century to the present. We also investigate oceanic environmental problems and futures, including coral and other species extinctions, depletion of fish and other oceanic resources, destruction of oceanic topographies, declining health and changing chemistries of sea water, and loss of human habitats and cultures.

Our environmental work on ocean imaginaries began with collaborations between SEI and the University of Sydney’s Macleay Museum to undertake enthnographic and environmental explorations of the complex and threatened marine and maritime cultures of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders based on spiritual, cultural and ecological relations with the oceans and their inhabitants.

A second major collaboration-in-progress, ‘The Underwater World’s Project’, has been developed with with humanities and science colleagues at the Universities of Sydney, Stanford and Vanderbilt. We have held conferences and workshops both at Sydney University and Stanford, and conducted research expeditions to the University of Queensland’s Heron Island Marine Research Centre and the University of Sydney’s One Tree Island Marine Research Centre. We are researching a book of essays exploring the multi-faceted impacts of human underwater explorations and imaginings on western culture from the early modern period to the present.

This last project intersects with a further series of collaborative oceanic and coastal workshops being undertaken with community environmental and eco-tourist groups and associations based at Mission Beach, south of Cairns. Having been devastated by two successive cyclones in 2006 and 2011, this community has instigated ambitious projects of environmental and cultural renewal. These aim to preserve and protect local island, rain- forest, reef and coastal habitats and also celebrate the region’s leadership of the conservationist campaigns that culminated in the formation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and its UNESCO World Heritage listing. We are working with Mission Beach environomentalists to help protect and renew a series of major Reef and Rainforest cultural heritage sites and buildings, including former activist John Busst’s house at Bingil Bay and Ted Banfield’s cairn and walk on Dunk Island.

Image: Brian Gratwicke_FlickrCommons_Mangrove propagules, GBR