MCAF Fellow Ruth Leeney

Ruth Leeney, PhD

Founder and Director,
Protect Africas Sawfishes
National Geographic Explorer

2016 MCAF Fellow


Ruth Leeney, P.h.D, is a marine biologist, conservationist and communicator. She completed her PhD in Zoology at University College Dublin and spent a decade doing research on whales and dolphins, including three years as Director of the Right Whale Aerial Survey Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, Cape Cod.

Ruth uses social science methods such as interviews to collect local knowledge about rare marine species and to understand the interactions between people and aquatic environments. Realizing how little was known about sawfishes in developing countries, she founded Protect Africa’s Sawfishes in 2012. She has since collected baseline data on these highly threatened relatives of sharks and rays in nine countries around the world. This has resulted in a vastly improved understanding of where sawfishes still exist, the threats they face in those areas and the challenges to sawfish conservation in the developing world.

Ruth Leeney has conducted sawfish baseline research in The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Ghana, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Peru. She has supported students or colleagues to conduct baseline studies in India, Bangladesh and Ecuador.

Supported in part by MCAF, Ruth is currently collecting environmental DNA (eDNA) from rivers throughout Madagascar to assess which habitats are still used by largetooth sawfish. She is also documenting the importance of sawfishes in traditional cultures around the world, and hopes to use this information to develop more effective educational and communication tools, to encourage behavior change amongst communities that regularly catch sawfishes.


Sawfishes, Elasmobranchs, Mozambique, Engagement with fishers, Community Engagement, Data Analysis, Conservation Leadership, Science Communication, Public Speaking, Advocacy, Education, and Gender in Fisheries and Conservation.

Ruth engages local communities on endangered sawfish.
Ruth Leeney engages local communities in her efforts to find and protect endangered sawfish and has developed communication tools such as posters, storybooks and videos in numerous languages. Photo courtesy: Chris Scarffe.
  1. Select Publications

    Downing, Nigel & Ruth H. Leeney. 2018. Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata Latham, 1794) in the Casamance River, Senegal: A historical perspective. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

    Leeney, Ruth H., Ralph R. Mana & Nicholas K. Dulvy. 2018. Fishers’ ecological knowledge of sawfishes in the Sepik and Ramu rivers, northern Papua New Guinea. Endangered Species Research 36. 15-26.

    Leeney, Ruth H. 2017. Are sawfishes still present in Mozambique? A baseline ecological study. PeerJ 5. e2950.

    Leeney, Ruth H. 2017. The King of the Fishes. Geneva, Switzerland: Save Our Seas Foundation.

    Leeney, Ruth H., Caroline R. Weir, Pierre Campredon, Aissa Regalla & Jeff Foster. 2016. Occurrence of Atlantic humpback (Sousa teuszii) and bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) dolphins in the coastal waters of Guinea-Bissau, with an updated cetacean species checklist. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 96(4). 933-941.

  2. News

  3. Books

  4. Awards and Fellowships

    2017 National Geographic Explorer
    2013 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowship

  5. Affiliations

  6. New England Aquarium News and Blogs

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