What a picture is worth

Malampaya Sound, Palawan, Philippines

Malampaya Sound, Palawan, Philippines

“When am I going to see photos of you water-skiing on dolphins?!  All you ever send me are photos of poverty-stricken third-world nations!” exclaimed my exasperated, never politically-correct father at dinner one night.  Though my research focus is on dolphin conservation in tropical countries, most of my actual fieldwork is conducted in fishing communities.  So, the photo albums that I bombard my family with largely comprise pictures of relatively undeveloped fishing villages.  As delicately stated by my father, these photos do depict poverty, and they’re certainly not stunning tropical ocean vistas.  However, I love those photographs; I enjoy documenting aspects of life in these village, where I find an honest, raw kind of beauty.

Photographs can provide a powerful glimpse into the world of small-scale fishing communities, useful beyond serving as a fond memento of your fieldwork days.  With a little effort, photographic documentation can be used as a valuable tool for research and outreach to the public.

Building fish traps while children look on - Malampaya Sound, Palawan, Philippines

Documentation for Research:  Taking photographs is a common method incorporated into small-scale fisheries research.  Documenting the types of homes, available infrastructure (e.g., electric wires, water sources, schools), and habitat provide context for interpreting other data collected.  Photographs of fishing gear, boats, catch, and vending of the catch can supplement written descriptions of fishing and market practices.  Such documentation is often included in “transect walks” through fishing communities.

Even unstructured photographs have value.  I’d say that photographs can capture much of the intangible nature of each site.  Personally, I’ve found that I feel a difference in ambiance from site to site, and though I am unable to identify all of the factors behind that feeling, I take plenty of photographs and notes to allow me to think more on those vague impressions at a later date.  Because photographs can capture much that is “intangible”, they can collect data that are outside the scope of your specific research objectives.

Additionally, given the diverse nature of small-scale fishing communities, photographs can be an excellent tool for across-site comparisons.

Shade for repairing nets - Pulupandan, Negros Occidental, Philippines

Outreach:   Because research and management of small-scale fisheries are a priority for marine conservation, improving public awareness and understanding of these communities is important.  Showcasing the often-tough socioeconomic conditions of these communities, for example, can demonstrate the need for including the human element in conservation actions in cases where human livelihoods are dependent on marine resource exploitation.

Posters and presentations (and websites) about small-scale fisheries become more relatable and salient to audiences with the inclusion of eye-catching and vivid photographs to demonstrate context and key points.

Examples:  We are already using some of our favorite photographs provided by AFRN members on our website (special thanks to Ted Groves).  See these links to BBC News for examples of photographs documenting small-scale fisheries.



Kurantay fishing boat - Malampaya Sound, Palawan, Philippines

Realizing the potential value of high-quality photographs for both communicating our research and for our own use in studying fishing communities, we are hoping to increase our communal collection of photographs from AFRN members.  Our goal is to develop an extensive library of photos from sites around the world, to be used (with proper credit) in research and public presentations.  Even if structured photographic documentation is not a part of your research protocol, snapshots of fishing practices, catch, and everyday life at your field sites can contribute to a greater understanding of these communities and their interactions with the marine environment.  (Be sure to get permission to take photographs from your potential subjects!)

(Apologies for the relative dearth of photos on this blog about photos…internet connection not so great today!)