Using Photographs to Explore Changes in the Marine Environment

As part of the Marine Protected Area Research Group’s Project IMPAACT, community members in several coastal communities were asked to participate in a Photovoice research processes to explore change in the marine environment and in coastal communities on the Andaman Coast of Thailand. This resulted in the publication of two photovoice books with these communities.

Photovoice is a participatory research process wherein cameras are given to research participants and they use these cameras to explore a topic or a question. A workshop was held at the beginning of the research process in each location to instruct participants on the use of underwater digital cameras. Participants then spent two weeks with the cameras documenting changes. Photographs were then printed and participants were interviewed to ask about the changes that were portrayed in the photographs.

The result was more than 2000 photographs of change and 50 hours of interviews. In the marine environment on Koh Phrathong, participants used their cameras to explore declines in marine abundance and catches, shifts in species composition, increasing abundance of mangroves forests and species, increasing levels of erosion, and shifts in rainfall patterns and storm frequency. On Koh Yao Noi, many of these same changes were noted. In addition, participants took pictures that showed declining numbers of larger fish, disappearance of some species, and increasing garbage. Social changes in the communities were related to shifts in livelihoods away from fishing and towards tourism and plantations, increasing numbers of fishers and commercial boats, in-migration of outsiders to the area, increasing engagement in market economies, declining civic engagement, and increasing technologies and conveniences.

The photographs taken by participants emphasize the need for improved fisheries management on the Andaman Coast of Thailand and for concerted marine conservation efforts. Indeed, participants in both communities discussed how their communities were trying to conserve areas of mangrove forest or seagrass meadows as this would lead to increases in marine abundance and diversity.

Results from the photovoice processes were recently published in two books. Books were returned to the communities as a catalyst for conversations about community development and conservation. The books were also posted online and can be found at the links below.

Bennett, N. & Dearden, P. (2012). A History of Change: An Exploration of Social and Ecological Change in Ban Tha Khao Through the Photographs of Locals (in Thai and English – Translated by Alin Kadfak). Report prepared for Project IMPAACT, Marine Protected Areas Research Group, University of Victoria. 82 pages.

Bennett, N. & Dearden, P. (2012). A Picture of Koh Phrathong: An Exploration of Change in the Environment and in Communities on the Andaman Coast of Thailand (in Thai and English – Translated by Alin Kadfak). Report prepared for Project IMPAACT, Marine Protected Areas Research Group, University of Victoria. 82 pages.


About Nathan J. Bennett

Nathan J. Bennett (see is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. He conducts research on humans-environment interactions, conservation social sciences and environmental governance and management.
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