Saturday, November 15, 2014

Introducing: The Protect Africa's Sawfishes project

Sawfish populations have declined dramatically, worldwide, in recent decades. Throughout much of the developing world, there is little or no information on whether sawfishes are still present. This is certainly the case for most African countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, sawfishes were historically found in suitable coastal and riverine habitats both on the west coast, from Mauritania south to Angola, and on the east coast from Somalia south to the KwaZulu-Natal coast of South Africa. But where are they now?

My name is Ruth Leeney and I am the founder and director of Protect Africa’s Sawfishes. The Protect Africa's Sawfishes project works with local communities to conduct sawfish research & conservation throughout Africa. The Protect Africa's Sawfishes team consists of many local collaborators whose help and interest in the project have been invaluable. Our aim is to document where the remaining populations of sawfishes occur and to work with communities to understand the cultural and economic importance of sawfishes to people, but also the local threats to sawfishes, such as fisheries and habitat destruction. This information is essential for our longer-term goal - to develop conservation strategies for sawfishes in African waters, and to encourage community-managed conservation of both sawfishes and their habitats. The primary tools used to achieve these goals are research, collaboration with local organisations and individuals, education and communication; at the community, government and international levels. Providing training and resources to collaborators is a key element and builds local capacity and awareness. Looking beyond the African continent, I hope to encourage, support and collaborate with teams in other developing countries, to collect baseline information on sawfishes and thereby to better understand where future conservation efforts should be focused.

The interview team in the Bijagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau.
Left to right: Ruth Leeney, Buas Napoleão dos Reis, Reinaldo Natcha,
Victor Albino Lopes and two fishermen.
So far, baseline information on sawfishes has been collected from Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Lake Piso in Liberia. I look forward to returning to Liberia in the near future, to continue that study with my enthusiastic collaborators in Farmers Associated for the Conservation of the Environment (FACE) and the Society for the Conservation of Nature Liberia (SCNL). Research is ongoing in Mozambique, in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Investigação Pesceira (Institute for Fisheries Research) and additional research projects are in development for 2015 and beyond.

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