Ruth Leeney, Ph.D. - New England Aquarium
Open Menu

Our Experts

Ruth Leeney

Ruth Leeney, Ph.D.

2016 Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) Fellow
Founder and Director, Protect Africa's Sawfishes


Ruth Leeney, Ph.D., is a marine biologist, conservationist and communicator. She completed her Ph.D. 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.

Learn more about Protect Africa’s 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

Awards and Fellowships

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



Marine Conservation Action Fund

Ensuring conservation leaders around the globe have the financial and professional resources to achieve key ocean conservation gains and the platform to amplify their work.