About My Project

Tricycling round the fishing barangays of Guimaras

Mabuhay – Selamat Datang – ยินดีต้อนรับ – Welcome to this blog, this repository of my research thoughts & fieldwork experiences.  Right now, I am trotting around Southeast Asia doing fieldwork for my dissertation: “Mapping Conservation-scapes of Small Coastal Cetaceans & Artisanal Fisheries”.

My fieldwork focuses on the impacts of artisanal (small-scale) fisheries on Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris). The little-studied Irrawaddy dolphin occurs in small, fragmented populations throughout Southeast Asia.  Incidental capture, or “bycatch”, of these dolphins in artisanal fisheries poses a major threat to their continued existence.  Artisanal fisheries are small-scale fisheries for subsistence or local markets, usually employing small boats and traditional techniques.  Bycatch in such fisheries is recognized as a significant, global threat to marine mammal populations.  However, because artisanal fisheries provide a vital livelihood for coastal communities, it is neither sufficient nor ethical to focus only on “saving the dolphins.”  Irrawaddy dolphin conservation must address the needs of local human populations.

This is why I run off to Southeast Asia, leaving my San Diego friends and family forlorn, envious, and suspicious that perhaps I’m really doing “research” on which beaches offer optimal conditions for lounging, tropical drink consumption, and snorkeling.  What I actually spend most of my time doing is considerably less relaxing, but also considerably more fascinating (make no mistake, though – I do thoroughly enjoy the few days off that I allow myself!):

Mark de la Paz conducting interviews in Guimaras

I am using ecology and social science field methods to understand the “conservation landscape” of Irrawaddy dolphins at four sites (2 in the Philippines, one in Indonesia, and one in Thailand).  I take photos of the dolphins so that I can identify individuals and understand where those individuals hang out and if those places overlap with fishing (or other) human activity.  I talk to fishers using various types of interviews to learn what they know about the dolphins (including the accidental capture of the dolphins), but also to gain greater understanding of the human element of this conservation problem.

Other parts of my dissertation will include an analysis of threats facing coastal and riverine cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, whales) in tropical developing countries, and focusing on how the study of the human element of artisanal fisheries can inform conservation.  I have founded and am chair of a new research group at CMBC, the Artisanal Fisheries Research Network (http://artisanalfisheries.ucsd.edu/).

I hope you enjoy following along with my research-related interior monologues and adventures in the field!  If you want to learn more about my research interests, my, er, “professional” website is tswhitty.com.  If you want to read slightly less “professional”, research-related musings inspired by my experiences in the field, check out RavoRavo Roving Ramblings.