One Tree Island is a coral cay of about 4 hectares, situated at the seaward (southeast) end of its reef which is 5.5 long and up to 3.5 km in size. The reef is an excellent example the rich development characteristic of the southern part of the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. It lies in the centre of the Capricorn Group of the Great Barrier Reef, about 20 km east of Heron Island and about 100 km off the Queensland coast. The nearest mainland port is Gladstone. The island has not been severely modified by human influence and continues to be valuable for terrestrial studies of a coral island. It is a rookery for six species of terns and a home to northern hemisphere waders. The lagoon is totally enclosed and is the only ponded lagoon on the Great Barrier Reef. It has a rich patch reef system with good variation in zonal characteristics. The reef has well defined windward and leeward differentiation on the outer reef slopes.
The whole of the One Tree Reef and the surrounding waters (500 m from the edge of the reef) is a designated Scientific Research Zone within the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It provides a unique opportunity for long-term field studies in a site known to be free of other human disturbances. The research station provides easy access to study sites within the lagoon at any stage of the tide. Depending on the type of the research, you will need a different permit.
The Australian Museum began research at One Tree Island in 1965. The site is renowned for Great Barrier Reef research with the field station’s bibliography is in excess of 300 titles. It has been managed by The University of Sydney since 1974 as a research only station and licensed to teach limited senior undergraduate and postgraduate students since 2005.