Bridging the gap: from research to conservation for sawfishes in Bangladesh

  • Rays & Skates
Years funded
  • 2020
  • Active
Project types
  • Conservation
  • Education
  • Research

Ruth sees sawfishes as flagship species for marine conservation: if we protect them, we also protect their marine and freshwater habitats. Building on a career dedicated to sawfish conservation and science, Ruth wants to raise awareness of the protected status of sawfishes in Bangladesh. Her project aims to debunk misperceptions around the consumption of sawfish products and instil pride in the fishing communities ultimately tasked with the stewardship of these highly threatened rays. Ruth wants to see more sawfishes released alive, and more fishers willing to participate in live-release programmes, to bolster healthy sawfish populations.

Bridging the gap: from research to conservation for sawfishes in Bangladesh

Ruth Leeney

Project leader
About the project leader
I have always been fascinated by the underwater world, encouraged perhaps by watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries as a child, and when I learned to scuba dive in my early 20s, my world changed forever. I began my career as a marine biologist by studying whales and dolphins and, searching for a niche to fill, realised that there was remarkably little known about them in African waters. I began working in The Gambia in 2007 and have since been involved in projects in eight countries on both the east and west coasts of Africa. Through my experience in providing training to local...
Project details

Bridging the gap - From research to conservation for sawfishes in Bangladesh

Key objective

Recent research has shown that sawfishes continue to be landed by fishers in Bangladesh. This presents a unique opportunity – to develop educational and awareness-raising tools to reach fishing communities in Bangladesh, and highlight that they can become stewards of one of the last remaining populations of largetooth sawfish in the world. This project aims to develop a short, educational film highlighting the critical status of sawfishes globally and the unique opportunity that the people of Bangladesh have to protect these unique animals.  The film will be an important tool in engaging and involving communities in future conservation efforts.

Why is this important

Outside of sawfish strongholds in Australia and Florida, USA, the majority of sawfish populations are rapidly diminishing or have already become locally extinct. Sawfish conservation efforts in low-income countries have been few, and have often come too late. The importance of this project lies not only in protecting sawfishes in another part of the world, but also in developing a blueprint for effective and meaningful sawfish conservation actions in low-income countries, where legislation is often ineffective. Incorporating local culture, involving communities and other local and regional stakeholders, creativity and effective communication will be essential!


Sawfishes are one of the most highly endangered families of sharks and rays globally. In recent decades, populations have declined dramatically and sawfishes are now extinct from many countries where previously they were found in abundance. However, sawfishes are still caught regularly by Indian and Bangladeshi fishers in the Bay of Bengal. In a recent study, Alifa Haque and I found that at least 25 sawfishes were landed at fisheries landings sites in Bangladesh over a 14- month period. This suggests that relative to many other parts of the world, sawfishes are still relatively numerous in this region.

Although the bycatch of sawfishes in Bangladesh has been known for some time, no targeted actions to reduce threats to sawfishes have been put in place. This is a result of the research-practitioner divide, where the results of research on threatened species do not result in any conservation action on the ground or meaningful improvements to the status of the researched species. For more background on our commitment to bridge the research-practitioner divide and implement activities which will improve the status of sawfishes in the near future, refer to our recent publication and infographic (links available soon), as well as my previous SOSF Keystone project Seeking Madagascar’s sawfishes.

Aims & objectives
  • Greater awareness of the protected status of sawfishes in Bangladesh, in coastal communities.
  • Greater understanding that the meat of sawfishes (and sharks) does not have curative properties and can actually be harmful to consume, leading to a reduction in demand and consumption of sawfish flesh.
  • A sense of pride and stewardship for sawfishes, in Bangladeshi fishing communities.
  • Greater willingness amongst fishermen to release sawfishes alive, leading to participation in a live-release programme.
  • Numerous sawfishes released alive – releases will be documented via the self-documentation programme.
  • Greater numbers of sawfishes remaining alive, leading to healthier sawfish populations.