Tom is one of a few Australian Citizens in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies pursuing a PhD. He arrived here after completing his undergraduate degree and honors’ at the University of Queensland. As a child Tom spent most of his free time fishing on headlands in southern New South Wales and as a deckhand for his father, a commercial abalone diver at the time. During this period, his foraging techniques evolved from picking table fish out of rock pools with his hands to setting many lines with many hooks in the hope of catching enough for dinner, and witnessed the collapse of the valuable New South Wales abalone fishery. This, combined with historical ecology research with Professor John Pandolfi is the probable catalyst for his passion to understand how people either succeed or fail to sustain natural resources. He has been fortunate enough to see most of Melanesia, and now works in Solomon Islands, a nation with abundant natural capital that is fast diminishing with rapid social change.
This research project will test the explanatory power of divergent sociological theories in explaining the condition of coral reef resources. The project is of national scope in Solomon Islands and focuses on village scale understanding and analysis. The context is coral reef fisheries and associated villages, and comprising both spatial and temporal perspectives. Theories being tested include; 1) human ecology which states that humans are ultimately bound by the limits of ecological conditions (akin to neo-Malthusian philosophy); 2) Environmental Kuznets Curve (and its derivations) which predicts that through the development process, societies will deplete their natural capital to a point before improving their localized environmental quality with continued development; 3) Political economy, with the central tenant that condition of natural capital is driven by market economies and the institutions that support them. This project will also identify how these theories relate to the way societies utilize and manage their resources. A fisher perspective will also be utilized to understand cross-scale differences in social-ecological dynamics.