Expedition!…in the office…

Fieldwork.  That word can conjure up images of adventures outside, of jungle treks and boat rides and binoculars and GPS units and the like, of wildlife encounters and conversations wiith locals – all part of collecting new data.  What’s often overlooked, and somewhat less glamorous, is exploring what data have already been collected and are stored in various binders, folders, and boxes.

These sources of data are included in the term “secondary sources”.  Published articles, unpublished reports, fisheries statistics, and census data can hold a wealth of information that too often goes unnoticed by subsequent research projects.  It takes work to learn about and access  these sources sometimes, as many are not published in the mainstream literature.   It’s certainly tedious, but it’s extremely valuable – it can provide guidance to future research projects and reduce redundancy in research efforts, and it can provide information for analyses of changes over time.

Additionally, by visiting the various repositories for this information (fisheries and NGO offices, universities, etc.), you establish connections with other researchers who are likely interested in your research and who have valuable input to offer.  It’s a great way to network and become integrated in the local reseach community.

So, yesterday, I tried to dress somewhat presentably (i.e., not my usual frayed field/backpacker clothes) and visited the office of WWF-Philippines here in Puerto.  They’ve done research in Malampaya Sound for over 10 years.  The researchers there have been hugely helpful to me in the past, and we’d already talked about collaborative papers as future products.  Thanks to this relationship, I’d made arrangements to mine their extensive collection of reports and data during my visits to Puerto.

Thankfully, their collection of folders and binders and envelopes is organized by broad category.  But it is an impressive pile of knowledge.  Just looking at the cabinet stuffed with reports gave me a headache…reluctantly, I dove in, fearing tedium and fatigue.

I soon found myself utterly fascinated by what I skimmed through and read – what lay before me was a depth of knowledge that I could not have gathered myself in the time-frame (and funding) of a PhD.  Malampaya Sound was overrun by pirates in the 1600s?  Wild.  Perhaps more relevant to my current research, of course, were events in the 20th century; a timeline of the growth of Taytay (the municipality including Malampaya Sound) documented the big waves of immigration, the completion of the road of Puerto Princesa, and the advent of destructive fishing practices.  I found that many of the concerns reported by fishers to the NGO Tambuyog in the mid-1990s were identical to those that fishers had now.

I have several more visits to make – to government offices in Taytay and Puerto, WWF again, and various universities.  Through these office expeditions, I hope to find specific bits of information (e.g., population growth rates, regulations relevant to marine resource management, trends in fisheries exports) as well as to cultivate greater general familiarity with the milieu of my site.

And it’ll certainly make me appreciate my days spent doing fieldwork outside more.