There it was! For many people what we were looking at was probably meaningless but for me it meant the world. We were in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL, Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), following a ranger car on a dirt road, to a turn off with a sign displaying “Bizant River” in big yellow letters. It’s probably ridiculous how excited I was, but when you spend your whole adult life studying euryhaline sharks and rays that move between fresh and saltwater, the Bizant River has an almost mystical meaning. After all that’s where the first specimens of speartooth shark Glyphis glyphis were found.

Rinyirru National Park is the second largest national park in Queensland and it is home to the Lama Lama and Kuku Thaypan peoples, the Bagaarrmugu, Mbarimakarranma, Muunydyiwarra, Magarrmagarrwarra, Balnggarrwarra and Gunduurwarra clans and related families. It contains many story places and sites of traditional significance and its ecological significance is immense, with large river systems as well as around 100 permanent billabongs. Most people would have heard about the park through the extensive adventures of the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin. What not many people know is that Rinyirru NP and its rivers are also home to what is likely the last population of freshwater sawfish Pristis pristis on the east coast of Australia.

Since our first exploratory trip in 2018, our project aiming to identify the distributions of sawfishes within the park, has grown. In 2020 we were awarded a Queensland Government Community Sustainability Action grant, auspiced by Cape York NRM. In collaboration with Rinyirru Aboriginal Corporation and their Land and Sea rangers, and also the Laura Land and Sea rangers, we aimed to identify sawfish habitat and assess species distributions between 2020-2023.

In May 2023, Sharks and Rays Australia was awarded a Threatened Species research grant from the Queensland Government. The funds will allow implementation of a sawfish tracking study in Rinyirry (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL, Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land), together with our collaborators at Rinyirru Aboriginal Corporation and their Land and Sea rangers, the Laura Land and Sea rangers, The Queensland Government and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

In September 2023 we ran the last field trip under the CSA grant, but already implemented the first steps for our new funding, and so the first acoustic receivers were deployed in the park. The highlight of this field trip was another encounter though, as we all met with the Queensland Minister for the Environment, Hon. Leanne Linnard, and also the Minister for the Environment and Water, Hon. Tanya Plibersek. We got them to tag their own little sawfish which they then also took home.

Image: Dr Wueringer (SARA) with the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, Federal Minister of Environment and Water (left) and the Hon. Leanne Linnard, Queensland Minister of the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, and their sawfish.

Image: Nikki Biskis (SARA) and Gene Ross (QPWS, Rinyirru) geared up to set acoustic receivers on a steep bank.