Expeditions - Sharks And Rays Australia

Join us in 2020!

September 2020, COVID-19 UPDATE: While Queensland has opened its interstate borders and the Cape is now accessible, we will not open our expeditions to field assistants who would be required to board a plane to come to Cairns in 2020. When working with Indigenous communities like Kowanyama and their Land and Sea Rangers, we have a responsibility to minimise the potential for COVID transmission. 

For our October and November expeditions we will likely do a public call out for field assistants via Facebook, so please follow us @SharksAndRaysAU. Participants will have to come from FNQ or be able to drive to Cairns. The costs associated with these expeditions will be lower than usually, but therefore participants have to already have remote area and fish handling experience (please apply through the field assistant form, and include your CV).

Protecting endangered species requires dedication. We conduct research with sharks, rays and sawfish in the remote regions of North Queensland, the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York. For this, we need dedicated field assistants. 

Do you want to join a small team and get hands-on experience in working with aquatic predators in remote locations? You will be part of a small team working with some of the most endangered species of sharks, rays and sawfish on the planet. You will learn how to conduct this research and how to do fieldwork with these animals. You will also get out into remote areas that you would not likely be able to access by yourself. Be warned, we have a lot of fun on our expeditions. If you are a uni student, see if you can earn uni credits for your participation, as getting this ‘real life experience’ credited towards a course is often possible!

Dedication essentail, previous skills optional. 

SARA runs around eight expeditions per year. Most expeditions leave from Cairns and last for 11 to 14 days. Our sampling methods used will include gill netting and setting of drum lines. We use a variety of different tags to gain information on the ecology of our study species. For more information on our research goals see here. Our equipment and fieldwork protocols ensure that capture and handling stress for each animal is minimized. Any shark, ray and sawfish captured will be tagged and released.

“I would just like to say another massive thank you for the trip to Burketown! It was by far one of the funniest trips I’ve done and one I’ll never forget. What you’ve got going on up there is absolutely brilliant and perfect for up and coming scientists who have a hunger for hands on experience.”

Lachlan George

student @ JCU Townsville

Field site information

Southern Gulf expeditions – Normanton region  Our fieldwork locations in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria are more accessible than those up north, as Cairns and Normanton are connected via a bitumen road. The drive typically takes 7–8 hrs, and there are several outback towns along the way with campgrounds. Once in Normanton, we generally head out west, to work in the Norman, Bynoe and Flinders Rivers. Which river we chose depends on accessibility and research goals.The southern Gulf of Carpentaria might represent a hot spot for sawfish. The country that we work on are private cattle stations that are also under non- exclusive Native Title. Once on location we camp in the bush and are self-sufficient. During the expedition to Normanton/Karumba towards the end of the year we will be renting air-conditioned cabins, as the temperatures in the Southern Gulf soar and make camping uncomfortable.

Mid- Gulf expedition – Kowanyama  This Indigenous community is located about half way along the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The country that we will be accessing is under exclusive Native Title and so we will be working closely with Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers as well as Traditional Land Owners (TOs). In We will once again return to the Mitchell River and its tributaries, for our third time. The expedition is both exploratory as well as targeting sawfish for our “Daily Diary” study. We will also be visiting the Kowanyama Cultural Museum, which is currently not officially open to the public. The curator has collected a multitude of artefacts in one of the largest collections in Australia that create a deeper understanding of Indigenous cultures in the area and the impact of white settlement. Access to Kowanyama is by dirt road only, which can easily become impassable after heavy rains. We therefore always maintain the right to change the research location without notice. During this expedition there are no public campgrounds beyond Chillagoe and we are self-sufficiently camping in the bush near our sampling sites.

Northern Gulf Expedition – Old Mapoon  This expedition targets field sites like the Wenlock / Ducie Rivers near Old Mapoon and rivers immediately south and north of it, all the way to the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Getting to our field sites requires a long drive from Cairns, most of which is along the unpaved Peninsula Developmental Road. The road conditions can vary throughout the year, which is why we take the drive easy and allow 2.5 days for it. We camp in campgrounds along the way. When working in the Wenlock River, we are likely to sample upstream and camp in the Steve Irwin Reserve for part of the expedition. During all expeditions, we will be self-sufficient camping in the bush.

East coast expeditions – Rinyirru National Park, Laura and Daintree  In 2020, we will be targeting a few different river systems on the east coast, north of Cairns. Locations can vary between the Daintree (where we have already sampled twice in the past), Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, and around Laura. We will be working with the local Indigenous Ranger group. The region is famous for its Aboriginal rock art, and we are likely to see some of the local sawfish rock art. While in the Laura region, we will be camping self-sufficiently in the bush. Returning to the Daintree for another sampling season is very exciting, as this is the only location that we work in that is in the Wet Tropics rainforest. We have encountered many crocodiles here and tagged and released many bull sharks. We have not yet caught a sawfish in the Daintree, but the continuous reports about sawfish downstream and even far upstream mean that we won’t give up.

East coast expeditions – Whitsundays region In 2020, we will commence fieldwork in the Whitsunday region, and near Mackay. All sampling sites are located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The decision to expand our project to this region was made as we have received information of sawfish still being present in this area. This is extremely exciting news! As such the expeditions are exploratory, and just like on any other expedition we will be sampling a wide variety of sharks and rays. As the field sites are much easier to access, we have decided to make shorter field trips. More info to come please be patient while we work out the details!! But we already know that we will be working in an incredible ecosystem. Please be advised that field assistants for these trips will meet the SARA team in Airlie Beach, not in Cairns!

“This might sound silly but it really was a dream come true for me to do something like that. I really do hope I contributed to the cause.”

Liz Xanthopolous

A Visitor To This Time

 Dates and Prices 


Date No. of days Location Price per person (incl. GST*)
July 22 – August 4 14 Kowanyama Qualifications required/ Cairns locals only
October 19 – 31 14 Rinyirru / Lakefield National Park   A$ 1000
November 15 – 30 11 Kowanyama   A$ 1000
December 2 nights STAY TUNED for local sampling opportunities in Far North Queensland   A$ TBA

If you would like to stay informed about our 2020 expedition dates, please sign up to our newsletter on the contact page.

* International participants can claim 10% GST back when leaving the country!

Ready to become a Field Assistant?


“Firstly i wanted to tell you how much i enjoyed the research trip and getting to know you. I’m not sure if i thanked you but i really did value the time we got to spend in the field. That part of the country is nothing short of amazing, so thank-you.”

Laura Bradbury

Australian Reptile Park

“It’s also great that some of the things I saw and learned in my short time with SARA have come in handy too. A few little things like organisation of the work up gear and data sheets, specific gear to use for certain things etc. so thanks for that!”

Rebecca Bateman-John

Divemaster @ Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions, Founder @ Fin Focus Research

“The Sawfish fieldwork program has to be one of my top fieldwork experiences that I have had in the field of ecology. The field trip had it all; setting drum lines for sharks; checking gill nets at night while being watched by crocodile eyes and the satisfying feeling of watching an animal swim away upon release. I have found that the SARA reference on my CV has been an excellent conversation starter with prospective employers. The variety of experiences during the fieldtrip makes for a great catalogue of examples that can be drawn on during interviews. Most people would never really have the opportunity to engage with marine science in such a way. Even those with a tertiary science education regret not taking the time to try various fieldwork opportunities, like this one, before settling down to a careers. I highly recommend joining the SARA team for a professional marine ecology fieldwork experience.”

Kieren Searle

student @ Uni of Wollongong

Still unsure? Check out our videos!

Please be advised that we generally do not work from a liveaboard mothership.