NEW funding will help scientists and Traditional Owners gather data that will help shore up the vulnerable freshwater sawfish’s last bastion on Australia’s east coast.
Almost $150,000 from the state government’s threatened species grants program will boost an ongoing collaboration between Sharks and Rays Australia, Rinyirru Lakefield Aboriginal Corporation, Laura Rangers, South Cape York Catchments and the University of the Sunshine Coast.
“The funding will allow us to continue and expand our collaborative research with Indigenous Land and Sea rangers,” said Dr Barbara Wueringer, the founder of Sharks and Rays Australia.
“We have completed a three-year project into freshwater sawfish, and we can now track juvenile sawfish to determine how they’re using the rivers in the Rinyirru.
“This is not just a tracking study however, it is a community project of discovery, because we believe they leave their freshwater habitat when they mature.”
The unique animals were once found along Queensland’s east coast, but their population has now shrunk to a small area around Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park north of Cooktown.
“The freshwater sawfish can grow up to 7m long, and used to be common along Queensland’s east coast,” Dr Wueringer said.
“The Brisbane River once was a pupping ground for the freshwater sawfish, and unfortunately on the east coast, their range is now limited to rivers within Rinyirru.”
Laura Ranger coordinator Sue Marsh said the teams would be deploying acoustic arrays in rivers in the national park to gather data on sawfish movements.
“This data will help when we start working on a recovery plan for the species,” she said.
“We don’t have adequate data at the moment, they’re so rare now it’s extremely difficult to get a good idea on how they are using the rivers.”
Ms Marsh said Traditional Owner knowledge was being utilised to help pinpoint where to look for the fish.
“We’ve got limited time in the field so we’ll really be using their knowledge as to where the best places are to go so we can maximise our catch rate.”
Dr Wueringer said while the ideal would be to find “heaps of sawfish”, the main goal was data gathering to figure out how the animals used the rivers.
“We want to know how far they go upstream and also to find adults when they come in,” she said.
“A large sawfish can grow up to 6m, but one hasn’t been seen on the east coast in a long time.
“Obviously there must be adults because there are juveniles, but how the adults use the rivers is completely unknown.
“We think they come in and pup and the pups swim upstream, but there are a lot of question marks.”
Anyone who spots a freshwater sawfish is urged to visit cytags.com to report their sighting.