Ecosystems & Global Biodiversity: Reef & Rainforest

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 In Aboriginal Culture, Biology, Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, Community Service, Ecosystems, Environmental Studies, Geography, Marine Science, Sustainability, Tours

Ecosystems & Global Biodiversity: Reef & Rainforest

Far North Queensland is blessed with two UNESCO World Heritage areas — The Wet Tropics (of which the Daintree Rainforest is a part) and The Great Barrier Reef–both of which contain some of the planet’s best biodiversity. Led by knowledgeable guides, your trip explores the wonders of these World-Heritage sites that hosts some of the planet’s best biodiversity.

On this trip, experience first-hand the impacts of both natural and human activity on these two ecosystems.  Learn while on country from Indigenous rangers how they are managing country; discover endemic and endangered species, perform field techniques, and collect data through citizen science projects. You also investigate current management strategies for tackling invasive species and other threats to both precious ecosystems.


5 Days/4 Nights
Cairns, Australia
Minimum 10 paying participants
$1756 AUD per person (including GST)
for 15 or more students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)
$1874 AUD per person (including GST)
for 10-14 students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)


  • Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef with a marine biologist
  • Soar high into the Daintree rainforest in JCU’s canopy crane
  • Participate in CoralWatch service project and collect primary data on coral bleaching
  • Discuss traditional land uses with Indigenous guides on country
  • Collect primary data about water quality and aqautic invertebrates at a university rainforest research station
  • Learn about traditional and contemporary protected area management
  • Visit a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre run by volunteers
  • OPTIONAL community service project for the mangroves or for Cairns’ homeless

  • Risk assessment
  • Cairns airport transfers
  • All activities as described in the itinerary
  • Transportation to activities
  • Naturalist guide on Days 4 & 5
  • Marine naturalist/marine biologist on Days 1, 2 & 3
  • Expert speakers and Indigenous guides
  • 4 nights Cairns 3-star hotel accommodation (2 or 3 share ensuite rooms)*
  • 1 night James Cook University Daintree Rainforest Research Station (4 share single-gender rooms)*
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners (except on Day 2)
  • Mask, fins, snorkel hire on Fitzroy Island and outer reef trip
  • Stinger suit hire during the wet season
  • 101 Marine Animals of the Great Barrier Reef and 101 Marine Animals of the Wet Tropics field guide for each student
  • Care for A Coral donation through Reef Restoration Foundation
  • Small World Journeys BPA free reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag
  • National Park and Marine Park taxes and levies
  • Starting in 2024: we offset the carbon emissions from your trip activities AND your flight to Cairns!


*Two teacher rooms (private twin or triple share rooms) are included in the trip price for groups of 15 students or more. For trips with low numbers (10-14), one teacher room is included. A supplement  is charged if an additional private room is required for the trip. If teachers are happy to share a room, no additional costs are incurred.

Small World Journeys reserves the right to change the order of activities for logistical reasons. Prices are valid for travel until 31 March, 2025.

  • Airfare to Cairns
  • 1 Dinner – free choice in town
  • Personal expenses (souvenirs, laundry, etc.)


  • Optional Community Service Project on Day 5 – learning about and cleaning up the mangroves that are crucial nurseries to the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef OR particpate in our Hygiene Helper program to create comfort packs for Cairns’ homeless population.


Arrival: Welcome to the tropics! You arrive in Cairns and are warmly greeted by one of our staff members at the airport. (Arrive before 1 pm today).

Traditional Protected Area Management with Indigenous Ranger: Your trip to Far North QLD begins with an exclusive experience on country. You head to an Indigenous community that is traditional country of the Gunggandji and Yidinji people and participate in a welcome to country smoking ceremony.  Rangers lead a discussion of the importance of the ranger program and managing country and how land and sea rangers play an important role in their local communities. Rangers work closely with their Elders to plan caring for country.  They contribute to their community through modelling leadership, a cultural connection, and assisting with inter-generational knowledge sharing. Other topics include the types of activities rangers are undertaking, in particular how drones are used by the rangers to monitor crocodiles.

Evening Geography & The Reef Presentation:  We know people have nervous breakdowns, but what happens when a reef gets too stressed out?  During this lively presentation taught by a marine naturalist, you learn more about how The Great Barrier Reef evolved and about how natural and human impacts are causing it stress. You also learn how Indigenous people have traditionally managed the reef, and how it’s managed today. Along the way, you discover weird and wacky things about the reef, such as the role of parrot fish poop, an example of mutualism that makes Nemo happy, and the most dangerous things in the sea that are not what you expect. Your naturalist prepares you to identify biogeographical interactions at the reef, how geomorphology changes the reef and how scientists are trying “assisted evolution” with corals.

Accommodation: Cairns 3-star hotel
Meals Included: Lunch, Dinner


Ferry Ride: This morning you 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 kaleidoscope of marine life: colourful corals, parrot and lionfish, turtles, cuttlefish, rays and giant clams.  Your marine biologist gives you some background about signs of a healthy reef, resilience at the reef before reviewing safety and use of your snorkel gear.

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

Activity Addressing Contemporary & Traditional Protected Area Management: A lunchtime mapping activity also helps students with their geography skills and to understand management strategies for the reef, both present and past. Students are led into a discussion about how the area has been traditionally managed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people for over 60,000 years, addressing topics such as sustainable fishing, use of totems and Traditional Owner stewardship.  Students are encouraged to consider and discuss what challenges there might be in using only traditional management practices today, considering the present day uses of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Contemporary management of the area is also looked at in detail, as well as the zoning plan released in 2003 by the Australian Government.

CoralWatch Data Collection: In the afternoon you collect primary data in an activity that addresses climate change and coral bleaching. During this exercise you find out more about how and why coral bleaches.  You learn how to identify different kinds of coral, match its pigments to a waterproof chart, and then record what you 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.

Turtle Rehabilitation Centre: During your visit you 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.

Human Impacts Activity: Students are introduced to an activity that has them evaluating the island’s human impacts throughout the day and are asked to fill in a “report card”.

Back in Cairns, you have a free choice dinner in town tonight with an optional visit to the Night Markets.

Accommodation: Cairns 3-star hotel
Meals Included:
Breakfast, Lunch

Boat Ride to Reef: This morning your marine biologist presents what you are likely to see at the reef and introduces the Eye on the Reef program, which involves instruction on how to complete the Rapid Monitoring Survey.

“Sustainable” Pontoon & Snorkelling: Upon arrival, you dock at a floating pontoon that is powered by 18 solar panels and 3 wind turbines. Here an underwater universe greets you. During a guided snorkel tour with your marine biologist, you can expect to see a rainbow of hard and soft corals, turtles, and a variety of fish species including butterfly fish, parrot fish and giant Maori Wrasse.

Data Collection & Service: Next you receive in-water training on how to conduct the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Rapid Monitoring Survey. Your marine guide will point out key features of the reef ecosystem, answer any questions, and conduct a practice survey with group. Then during a timed snorkel session, you record your underwater findings.  Your guide and waterproof slates help you identify a host of marine life and calculate benthic zone coverage. Most importantly, you look for signs of coral bleaching and coral predators which greatly affect the health of the reef.  Your data is then collected and contributes to the central reporting system used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to manage the long term sustainability of this UNESCO World Heritage area.

Pontoon Marine Lab: The pontoon comes specially equipped with a marine lab.  This allows you to collect plankton and view them under a microscope, and discuss what scientists can tell from studying this microscopic life.  Today’s program can also be tailored to geography curriculum goals.

Indigenous Culture: Part of your day is interacting with Traditional Owners, listening to a digeridoo performance and watching staff perform traditional dances. You also board a glass-bottom boat and a Traditional Owner discusses his sea country along with Traditional Uses of Marine Resources Agreements (TUMRAs).

Field Guide: 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand the underwater world and is yours to keep.

Biodiversity &  The UNESCO World Heritage Wet Tropics Presentation:  Before you encounter the rainforest, you first learn from a speaker just what makes this region so special. Researchers, scientists and tourists alike come from all over the world to discover the supreme biodiversity in this World Heritage area, a region that came to be against all odds. You learn why this corner of Australia–with its jade mountains and lush emerald rainforests—is a geographical anomaly. By luck of shifting tectonic plates, the Wet Tropics earned the longest continually growing rainforest in the world. Plants that ruled alongside dinosaurs still stand today. More than 100 animals are rare or threatened here and dozens of species live nowhere else in the world. Your speaker discusses climate change, protected area management and how different methods are used in the Wet Tropics. You leave with insight about and appreciation of this globally significant area you are about to visit.

Accommodation: Cairns 3-star hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Wet Tropics Daintree Rainforest & University Research Station: Today you enter the magical Daintree Rainforest – the oldest continuously growing rainforest on earth. You arrive at James Cook University’s Daintree Rainforest Observatory, an eco-monitoring site and research station with wet and dry labs. It lies in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, and claims the highest biodiversity of anywhere in Australia! You get a safety induction and orientation and then a presentation about the important research and innovations in sustainable management that are happening here. In addition, you learn how invasive species are creating ecological disturbances and how the station is managing this.

Rainforest Canopy Crane: The James Cook University Research Station is home to their canopy crane, and Small World Journeys has special access to this site.  After a safety orientation and a discussion about the significance of this rainforest by an on-site expert, you 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).

Water Quality Measuring and Aquatic Invertebrates Sampling: Whilst not in the crane, you discover the language of water and what it says about the creatures that can survive in it. Today with nets and buckets you take water quality measurements involving indicators like pH, nitrate, dissolved oxygen and phosphate levels from both an on-site pond and a stream. Testing for these elements may reveal the presence of fertilizers or biological extremes, which will also aid in your discussion about species survival rate, influences from environmental conditions and eutrophication. You bring your samples back to the lab to investigate under microscopes and can draw conclusions based on an easy-to-use “SIGNAL” biotic index.

Field Guide: 101 Animals of The Wet Tropics, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand animal species in the region and is yours to keep.

Daintree Rainforest Observatory Accommodation: Your home for the night is in the new facilities at the station. Rooms for students are single gender, six and 10-bed rooms and teachers stay together in a separate room. You have access to a communal industrial kitchen, and an amenities block nearby provides laundry, bathroom and shower facilities. Tonight the sounds of the jungle surround you.

Nocturnal Wildlife Spotting: After dinner you explore the rainforest for abundance of wildlife that appears once the sun sets. Your guide presents a spotlighting exercise, during which you look for crepuscular and nocturnal species, focusing on endemics. This methodical observation helps students understand the diversity of life in the rainforest and the ecological roles these species play. Additionally, you discuss micro bats, which are the most diverse mammalian group of the tropical rainforest. You learn how these creatures use sophisticated echolocation to detect both prey and predators, how they are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction, and how they play a monumental role in the health of the rainforest.

Accommodation: Daintree Rainforest Research Station
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Environmental Debate: After a night of immersion in the rainforest, you participate in a debate in which each small group takes on a role and presents their argument either for or against the expansion of a port in Cairns. Detractors say it will negatively affect the Great Barrier Reef; others say not. This is a fun way for you to get involved with all sides of an environmental debate with a real-life example that has gained significant media attention.

You then travel back to Cairns and arrive at the airport for your flight home.

Optional Service Project:  If your flight is not until later in the afternoon, you can participate in a mangroves cleanup project or our Hygiene Helper project for the homeless in Cairns, neither of which are an extra cost on this day.  

Project 1- Hygiene Helper Program: Part of being a “sustainable” tourist is helping the community in which you are travelling. If you have a later flight today, you can participate in a service project for people that come to Cairns from remote Indigenous communities. These people come to Cairns for medical reasons, and often do not have anything with them. You may also make these special comfort packs for the homeless people in Cairns. You learn to make special bags using upcycled materials, and then create packs with hygiene items people most need, like shampoo, toothpaste and sanitary items. No worries if you aren’t the best at arts and crafts – the bags are easy to make, and you’ll feel good doing it too. (An hour and fifteen minutes in duration)


Project 2 – Mangroves Clean Up: The site of your community service project is a critical mangrove ecosystem which is the breeding ground for many important aquatic species.  Your guide teaches you about the interesting aspects of mangrove systems and their importance to the Great Barrier Reef.  One particular creek in Cairns makes its way to the ocean via the mangrove ecosystems. Unfortunately household rubbish also often makes its way into these creeks and so today you will be grabbing gloves and garbage bags to do your bit to clean up the waterway.  You tally your “rubbish results” at the end and the team with the top results gets a prize.

Meals Included: Breakfast

Check out this tour's educational outcomes
An outstanding trip where every need and want was catered for. Left no stone unturned. All of the guides were fantastic but pay a special mention to Pablo, whose enthusiasm and expertise really rubbed off on the boys. The level of expertise that was constantly around us made the trip extremely educational and immersive.”
–Justin Verco, geography teacher, Newington College, Sydney NSW (November ’18 and ’19)

How Your Trip Makes The World A Better Place

We’re not talking rainbows and unicorns. We’re talking about how we have put significant thought into how to make our student tours as safe as they possibly can be while still being fun; encouraging students to learn about and contribute to the community they are travelling in; and teaching them what “sustainability” really means.


AlthoughWe are determined and motivated to be the most sustainable business we can be. This is why we run our office on renewable energy, voluntarily offset our carbon emissions, and fulfilling our policy to give at least 5% of our annual net profits to local environmental and community organisations and charities. Here’s what else we are doing:

HELPING THE REEF: In addition to the coral tree we sponsor, we pay to “adopt” coral at Fitzroy Island through our partner. The coral propagation happening there is unprecedented and is being celebrated as a significantproject to help save the reef. Each of our groups that visit the reef receives a certificate on the tour and later receive updates on the coral.

ADOPTING A RAINFOREST PLOT IN YOUR NAME: We pay to have a 5-square metre plot of rainforest is adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue. On your excursion, your group will be presented with a certificate detailing the significance of this gift to the environment. In 2018-19, we purchased more than 100 square metres of rainforest adopted in our groups’ names.

CREATIVE WASTE REDUCTION: We give you your own water bottle and cloth shopping bag to eliminate the need for disposable bottles and plastic bags (and saves them from going in landfills!) We also recycle BOTH our hard plastics and soft plastics (through RedCycle) and have transitioned into NO WASTE snacks and NO WASTE lunches. Our food scraps get composted and put into our community garden, our bin liners are paper (not plastic) and we even wipe our bums with Who Gives a Crap 100% recycled toilet paper!


SUPPORTING OUR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY: It is our policy to include a talk or an activity with an Aboriginal person on every trip we offer. By taking this trip, you are supporting grassroots indigenous tourism ventures and encouraging Aboriginal pride in culture.

Additionally, our student community service project involves students in making “Moon Sick Care Bags” which supply re-usable sanitary products to Aboriginal women in remote communities — this helps both Indigenous women AND the environment! (Ask us how your group can do this on their tour)

SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES: It is our policy to use locally owned suppliers and businesses unless their standards are not up to par (for example, if they have a bad environmental record).

VOLUNTEERING IN OUR COMMUNITY: Small World staff are incentivised to volunteer in the community, and are given time to do so during work hours. As a team, we also clean up our local mangroves once a quarter, recognising their importance at the nursery to the Great Barrier Reef.


SUPERB SAFETY RECORD: We’ve had thousands of students travel with us, and our safety record is excellent. Ask us for teacher references specifically regarding safety.

RISK ASSESSMENT FOR EVERY TRIP: We do a risk assessment for every student tour we run, and is sent to your organising teacher. We have safety protocols for our activities and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manual that documents these protocols. We also have a complete Crisis Management Plan. In addition, students are given a safety briefing during orientation that addresses hazards and risks for this region.

SAFE BUSES: All of our buses are equipped with seatbelts for every seat. While this is not a Queensland law to have them, we feel your safety is a priority. Our guides do safety checks at the start of each day of the trip. In addition, vehicles go through a Department of Transport safety inspection every 12 months.

SAFE GUIDES: Small World Journeys’ guides hold current Senior First Aid and CPR certificates, along with government-issued Driver’s Authority (if driving) and Working With Children cards (also known as a Blue Card) after passing a thorough background check. For more information on our guides, see About Us.

We do custom trips!

Still haven’t found exactly what you are looking for? All our tours are fully customisable and can be catered to suit your time-frame, student interests and budget. A geography excursion to the Great Barrier Reef? A biology excursion to the Daintree Rainforest? An Aboriginal culture excursion? Our educational trips in Queensland and New South Wales are hand-crafted for those who cannot find exactly what they want from the inflexible set itineraries of large tour operators.

If you are looking for a science trip, ecology trip, Aboriginal culture, or just a sample of the best of Australia – we can help.

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