Biology Camp Far North Queensland

Special Tour Availability: To suit your travel requirements.
Cairns QLD, Australia Science, Australia, Queensland

Biodiversity & The Interconnectedness of Life in Two World Heritage Sites

While some biology camps spend lots of time in a classroom or in one location, this program introduces you to the incredible biodiversity of multiple environments in Far North Queensland. From the jungle-draped Wet Tropics to the sun-soaked Great Barrier Reef, this biology camp is designed to explore dynamic marine ecology as well as the terrestrial and human ecologies of this incredible region.

Twelve out of the world’s 19 families of primitive flowering plants grow here and within these families, there are at least 50 species found only in the Wet Tropics. In addition, this area hosts about a third of Australia’s 315 mammal species and 13 of these are found nowhere else in the world. Join us on a biology program taught by passionate educators who will inspire and ignite your students’ enthusiasm of the natural world.

Destination: Cairns

Tour Highlights:

  • Help collect data on coral bleaching and coral predators at The Great Barrier Reef.
  • Stay overnight at a research station and evaluate its rainforest ecosystem.
  • Learn to fashion insect traps that allow observation of entomological diversity.
  • Weave among the mangroves and test water quality levels.
  • Learn from a marine biologist’s presentation about the reef.
  • Rise above the Daintree Rainforest in a one-of-a-kind canopy crane.
  • Tour James Cook University’s herbarium for unmatched examinations of plant species including some of Sir Joseph Banks’ collection.
  • Perform biologist’s fieldwork with transects and quadrats and sketch a vegetation profile.


  • Accommodation throughout the itinerary
  • Cairns airport transfers
  • Guide on days 1-2
  • Aboriginal guides days 3-4
  • Specialty guides and educators
  • All activities and entrance fees as described in the itinerary
  • Transportation to activities
  • 3 nights at Cairns budget accommodation 1 night bush camping (tents, sleeping pads and bags provided)
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • A hand-painted canvas to take home
  • Pre-trip educational information
  • 5 metres square Daintree rainforest plot adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue
  • A BPA free reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag

Terms & Conditions:

Please be advised that this is an ‘example’ of a schedule and that the activities may be variable dependent upon dates, weather, special requests and other factors. Itineraries will be confirmed prior to travel.

Day 1
Aboriginal-Guided Rainforest Walk, Ecosystems & Biodiversity 

Arrival in Cairns: Welcome to Cairns! Students are met at the airport by one of our staff and have an orientation and safety briefing. (flight needs to arrive by 10 am)

Aboriginal Guided Rainforest Walk:  Your first activity is discovering the biodiversity of the Daintree Rainforest through the eyes of an Aboriginal guide. This area is culturally, historically and biologically important to the Kuku Yalanji people. Starting with a traditional smoking ceremony, you wander rainforest paths, discovering with your guide how these Aboriginal people found their way through dense rainforest and learned which native plants were tasty to eat, which plants were dangerous and which ones served as weapons and medicine. As the guide shares his stories, students also learn how the seasons dictated life, what falls under men’s and women’s “business”, how to make a fire in the rainforest and how to make fish very easy to catch. Students then sample billy tea and wattleseed damper (bread) made on the fire topped with jam from rainforest berries.

Daintree Rainforest: Next students cross into the main section of the Daintree Rainforest, the jewel in the crown of the Wet Tropics.  For biology students, this is an important area for study: this area of the country has the highest concentration of primitive flowering plant families in the world, Australia’s rarest mammal (the Murina floriousbat) and 13 species of birds found nowhere else on earth.

Rainforest Research Station: You arrive at a research station that is tucked away in the rainforest which is closed to tourists but open to your group. The purpose-designed “pods” are single-gender, four- and six-bed rooms.  These have access to a communal industrial kitchen, and an amenities block nearby provides laundry, bathroom and shower facilities.  The remote location in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest along with the site’s rich biodiversity and modern amenities create a unique and inspirational learning environment.

Evening Light Trap Activity:  Light traps are a fun and easy way to monitor the diversity of insects that are active at night within an ecosystem. Many night-flying insects are attracted to light and by leaving the trap out overnight students should catch a variety of insects to examine and identify in the morning. The guide will show the students how to easily make traps using upcycled bottles.


Nocturnal Wildlife Spotlighting Activity:  Tonight with the guide students can roam the rainforest to spot the Daintree’s elusive crepuscular and nocturnal creatures as they come to life as the sun sets. Your guide knows what signs to look for during this spotlighting exercise, and students may have a chance to meet the Northern Brown Bandicoot, Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo, or the striped possum as it leaps onto the rainforest’s giant fan palms.

Field Guides: Field guides, 101 Animals of the Wet Tropics and 101 Plants of the Wet Tropics are yours to keep and give you a background about regional and endemic species.

Lunch and Dinner included

Overnight Rainforest Research Station Cabins

Day 2
Environmental Debate, Ecosystem Evaluation, Field Techniques and Marine Biology Presentation

Environmental Debate: After breakfast students participate in a debate which focuses on issues of development and effects on biodiversity. Students are given background information about a major development proposed for Cairns and then given different roles to play of community members.  This requires evaluating projected economic, social and environmental impacts as well as proposed sustainability efforts and then arguing for or against the development. This is a fun way for students to get involved with all sides of an environmental debate with a real-life example that has gained significant national media attention.

JCU Canopy Crane: The James Cook University research station is home to their canopy crane. After a safety orientation and a discussion about the significance of this rainforest by an on-site expert, students climb into a suspended gondola with the crane operator. The crane then ascends over the rainforest canopy, and can swing 360 degrees, surveying 1 hectare of the incredible biodiversity that has earned the Daintree UNESCO World Heritage status. This research station is only 1 of 3 of its kind existing in the tropics. (Students must be at least 16 years old. Activity runs Monday-Friday only).

Ecosystem Evaluation: While students wait their turn in the crane, students also divide into small groups and conduct an ecosystem evaluation. Students duplicate fieldwork that “normal” biologists would do to determine vegetation structure, health, and ecological function.
Transects and Vegetation Profiles: Within each ecosystem, students evaluate biodiversity along a transect using quadrats. Students learn how this helps assess vegetation composition, vegetation health, structural complexity, canopy structure, and ground cover. Students then sketch a vegetation profile after using tools such as a clinometer.

Leaf Classification: Being able to know what type of leaf you are looking at while in the field is vital to identify the species of tree and it can also be used to classify the type of rainforest that you’re in. This activity is designed to give students the skills to identify aspects of leaves and to determine dominant leaf categories and thus rainforest type.

Water Quality Measurements And Swimming: Finally students discover the language of water and what it says about the creatures that can survive in it. You take water quality measurements involving indicators like Ph, nitrate, dissolved oxygen and phosphate levels. Testing for these elements may reveal the presence of fertilizers or biological extremes, which will also aid in your discussion about species survival rate and eutrophication. Afterwards, students take a refreshing dip and head back to Cairns.

Marine Biologist Presentation: This evening students learn more about biodiversity and the significance of the Great Barrier Reef during this presentation taught by a marine biologist.  From colourful corals that take whimsical shapes like broccoli, brains and baskets to a host of fish such as the chocolate-dipped damsel, the Picasso triggerfish and the giant Maori wrasse, students learn how to identify the most common creatures at the reef. Students find out about threatened species and coral predators–such as the Crown of Thorns—and the consequences of climate change and human activity on the reef. More importantly, students learn about the real hazards at the reef (like the innocent-looking cone shell) versus the imagined ones (like scary sharks) fuelled by Hollywood myths. Students leave with a greater understanding of the reef environment and an appreciation of the natural wonder students are about to experience.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included

Overnight Cairns Budget Accommodation

Day 3
The Great Barrier Reef: Snorkelling, Biology, Data Collection and Turtle Rehab Centre

Ferry Ride: This morning students are ferried to the pristine Fitzroy Island. A fringing coral reef surrounds the island, part of the inner Great Barrier Reef, providing a sheltered home for a variety of fish and coral species.

Guided Snorkelling: With full use of snorkel gear for the day, students can walk right into the water to explore the magnificent reef system that surrounds the island. Your marine biologist leads the students to underwater examples of biodiversity, parasitism, and commensalism as well as examples of the reef’s most interesting features.

Coral Watch Data Collection:  In the afternoon students engage in an activity that addresses concerns over climate change and coral bleaching. During this exercise, students find out more about how and why coral bleaches.  Students learn how to identify different kinds of coral, match its colours to a waterproof chart, and then record what they observe in teams of two.  The data then goes back to the University of Queensland’s Coral Watch scientists, where they analyse the results over time and look for any long term trends. Students’ results also go into a database to track bleaching around the world, and the group receives a graph of their results.

Water Quality Sampling:  As part of ongoing data collection, students measure water quality by taking temperature and vertical visibility readings using a Secchi disc. Students learn how consistent measuring at the reef shows long term trends, which in turn is a good predictor of overall reef health.

Field Guide & Sightings App: 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps students to better understand the underwater world and is yours to keep. Students also learn how to log in sightings of your reef fauna and flora using an app downloadable to their phone or tablet, and their data is then sent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

Turtle Rehabilitation Centre: During students’ visit they also visit the island’s Turtle Rehabilitation Centre where a collection of volunteers help save sick and injured sea turtles by looking after them until they are ready to be released back into the ocean. Students return to Cairns at the end of the day.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included

Overnight Cairns Budget Accommodation

Day 4
James Cook University Biology Workshop

Biology Seminar: Today students head to James Cook University for a biology-focused workshop. JCU is Australia’s highest-ranked university in environmental science and offers marine biology studies not found anywhere else. Through a custom-designed interactive workshop today students have the opportunity to engage with world-leading researchers and equipment.

Marine Labs & Aquarium:  
Popular with film crews, the marine labs at JCU boast one of the world’s best sites for capturing marine creatures on camera.  Sophisticated equipment placed in the tanks allows for observing and filming animal behaviour up close. Additionally, JCU’s unique circular tank allows for a simulated current and the careful study of jellyfish. Students meet staff who are on the cutting edge of marine science research, learn how they “milk” fish for venom, and about the latest findings in the development of anti-venoms.

Venomous Creatures & Mangrove Biome: Here students meet unusual and deadly creatures such as sea horses, baby crocodiles, cone shells, the lethal Chironex jellyfish, and the extremely rare lungfish, found in captivity only at JCU. The cast members of Finding Nemo live here too.  Students also investigate a working model of a mangrove biome, an important tool for studying effects on water quality and salinity as well as climate change mitigation.

World Class Herbarium: Books upon books of pressed and preserved plant species decorate JCU’s Tropical Herbarium, where students are next invited in as privileged guests. The Herbarium is a biologist’s delight; it boasts over 160,000 specimens, cutting edge facilities for processing and curation, as well as research. Highlights include viewing the Spirit Room, do-it-yourself area for plant enthusiasts, and the very special specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks aboard Captain Cook’s first voyage to Australia.

State-of-the-Art Mosquito Research Facility: Next student step into a ‘green-house’ style laboratory designed to replicate the preferred Australian breeding ground of the mozzie!  Students peer into microscopes to investigate larvae and discover from scientists what experiments they are performing to control the spread of tropical diseases, such as dengue fever and malaria.  Students also learn how volunteers offer themselves up as “meat” for science.

Cuisine & Culture:  This evening students have a special treat: a migrant now living in Cairns shares her story and her love of cooking with you.  Students learn how to prepare a delicious meal from her home country, and armed with the recipe students can also re-create this meal when they return home.  In a time when the plight of migrants is widely discussed, this activity will allow students to understand circumstances in the world that cause people to flee their countries and will humanise this struggle.  Students gain some culinary skills, feast on a fantastic meal, and perhaps make a new friend.  (Please let us know if you wish to skip this activity and eat at a restaurant instead).

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included

Overnight Cairns Budget Accommodation

Day 5
OPTIONAL Mangrove Workshop and Cleanup, Transfer and Depart

After breakfast, this morning students have free time for last-minute shopping or souvenir purchases.  If the group leaves later in the day, you can choose to include the following option:

Mangrove Boardwalk: Your next stop is the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk. This raised walkway takes students through this critical mangrove ecosystem which is the breeding ground for many important aquatic species.  The guide teaches students about the interesting aspects of mangrove systems and their importance to the Great Barrier Reef. Students learn how mangroves deal with a lot of salt in their diet, how they act as the baby nurseries of the Great Barrier Reef and why both humans and the reef rely on these complex systems.

Creek Cleanup: Then students visit one of the creeks that makes its way to the ocean via the mangrove ecosystems. Unfortunately household rubbish also often makes its way into these creeks and so today students will be grabbing gloves and garbage bags to do their bit to clean up the waterway.  Students tally their “rubbish results” at the end and the team with the top results gets a prize (mangrove activity is an additional $15 per person).

The group is transferred back to the Cairns Airport for the flight home.

Included: Breakfast

 Call Us: 1300 063 280
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