On the island, on the water, underwater: arts–science collaboration for the Great Barrier Reef

Dr Leah Gibbs1, Dr Sarah  Hamylton2, Ms Kim Williams3, Dr Lucas Ihlein3

1School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong, Wollongong

2School of Environmental, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 

3School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, Wollongong


The Great Barrier Reef has become an icon of anthropogenic climate change. Major threats to the reef include chemical and sediment run-off from agriculture, coal mining, over-fishing, and most significantly, increasing levels of atmospheric CO2. The data is now incontrovertible. Yet, climate scientists have expressed grave concern that scientific data demonstrating the present and potentially catastrophic future effects of climate change are met with political inaction, in Australia and elsewhere. Numerous scholars have called for new approaches to investigating and communicating about climate change that draw from the theoretical and methodological approaches of multiple disciplines. It is in this context that arts–science collaboration is gaining new ground. This paper emerges from such an interdisciplinary, arts–science research project. ‘Mapping the islands: how arts and science can save the Great Barrier Reef’ involves a human geographer, a coastal reef scientist, and two artists, and asks what such a collaboration can reveal about the environmental, social, cultural, and more-than-human consequences of climate change. Specifically, the paper explores what insights emerge from being in place. To do so, it takes three views of the reef: on an island, on the water, and underwater.


Leah Gibbs is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wollongong. She is fascinated by the more-than-human world. Her current research projects examine people and sharks, nature and cities, and arts–science collaboration for political change.

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