Net-WorksTM redesigns global supply chains to create sustainable and scalable solutions that reduce marine plastic, increase fish stocks and improve the lives of marginalised coastal communities living in biodiversity hotspots of developing countries. We connect these communities to global brands via a fair and inclusive business model that delivers ‘less plastic, more fish’.
- Operations in 40 communities in the Philippines and Cameroon, with expansion to Indonesia underway.
- Successfully established a community based supply chain for discarded fishing nets – a major source of plastic pollution and a hazard to marine life – collecting and recycling 224 metric tonnes so far.
- Now building out an ecological and inclusive seaweed supply chain for carrageenan (seaweed extract) in Southeast Asia directly linked to measures that replenish fish stocks and avert the risk of carrageenan becoming the ‘palm oil of the sea’.
On the current trajectory of plastic pollution and overfishing there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the ocean by 2025. The people most affected are those in marginalised rural communities within biodiversity hotspots of the developing world, especially in Southeast Asia which contributes >60% of the world’s marine debris, is the centre of marine biodiversity, contains 55% of the global population of artisanal reef fishers and suffers the highest level of fishing pressure.
Community-based Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with No-Take Zones (NTZs) and mangrove rehabilitation areas are key tools for restoring coastal ecosystems and enhancing socio-ecological resilience. There are >1,500 MPAs in the Philippines (NTZs average 12ha) that are often too small to be effective due to high dependence of communities on fishing. They typically focus on coral reefs and do not capture critical seagrasses or mangroves, and are too dependent on donor funding cycles.
Net-Works provides a simple, scalable and holistic model to deliver less plastic, more fish and improve the lives of marginalised coastal communities across Southeast Asia:
- Applying the principles of fair trade and inclusive business, we create efficient community-based supply chains for raw materials (plastics and seaweed carrageenan) that are available in abundance. We link these raw materials to conservation actions that reduce plastic pollution and restore coastal ecosystems. Increasing incomes from seaweed reduces dependence on fishing – enabling communities to set aside larger NTZs.
- We sell these raw materials into global supply chains, giving international brands opportunities to source premium products with positive social and environmental stories, giving fishing communities a more transparent and dependable price, and providing sustainable funding sources for local conservation and development actions. This ensures the sustainability of larger, more effective multi-habitat MPAs, and quality controls and standards can be maintained independent of external donors.
- To manage local supply chains, we set up community banks, bringing communities together in informal cooperatives and providing much needed access to financial services, using the globally recognised and proven Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model. These community banks are the ‘social glue’ at the heart of Net-Works, enabling members to invest in their sustainable livelihoods, building a Net-Works’ conservation constituency.
Net-Works started by developing a prototype around discarded fishing nets that are recycled into nylon yarn and sold to Interface Inc to make high design carpet tiles. We have been progressively building on this foundation. To date we have:
- Collected >224 metric tonnes of nets (increasing daily) – enough to go around the world >5 times –which have been recycled into high quality nylon yarn and sold to Interface, Inc. to make high design carpet tiles.
- Conducted successful scientific trials of ecological seaweed farming in the Philippines.
- Prototyped the first ‘bigger’ community-based MPA needed to replenish fish stocks, covering 627ha, with 202ha in a NTZ (up from the average12ha) in the Philippines. We are currently finalising ordinances for a further three communities with NTZs over 200ha in size. Built the best-practice standards and tools for these ‘bigger’ MPAs to also be ‘better’ MPAs that include seagrasses, mangrove rehabilitation and improved governance and enforcement.
- Given 2,200 families access to finance through our community banks, who are now advocates. >1,200 members have voluntarily started making small weekly contributions to an ‘environment pouch’, which is used to support conservation activities. Last month one community, ranked by national measures as one of the poorest in the country, contributed ~$500 to upgrade their MPA guardhouse.
- Improved the marine environment for 64,000 people.
Received awards and recognition in the media, including the US Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (Sustainable Ocean Management 2016), MRW National Recycling Awards’ Business Partnership of the year (2017), Guardian Sustainable Business award for collaboration (2015) among others.
We are now building out the supply chain for carrageenan (seaweed extract), which will be the economic engine for scaling Net-Works across Southeast Asia. Carrageenan-bearing seaweed is used by the cosmetics, toothpaste, firefighting and food industries, and projected to have a global market value of around $1bn by 2021. Seaweed farming is a popular activity in coastal communities across Southeast Asia, with over 1 million people dependent on seaweed farming in the Philippines where it accounts for 35% of fisheries production. Seaweed has potential to provide a valuable source of income to these communities. However, the current seaweed supply chain is fraught with inefficiencies and inequalities. As a result carrageenan is fast becoming the palm oil of the sea.
We link seaweed farming to MPAs, in line with the bigger and better MPAs already prototyped through this project. By setting high social and environmental standards and improving efficiencies, Net-Works can offer farmers a fair price that can double local incomes, as well as provide necessary technical support services, affordable loans and insurance, and incentivises conservation.
Based on our experience to date we have forecast the costs and revenues for Net-Works including carrageenan and nylon-6 as sources of revenue. Initial modelling suggests that carrageenan production scaled across our existing communities could provide sufficient revenue to cover in-country overheads and provide return on investment. These forecasts have resulted in interest from impact investors, pending completion of a formal pilot of these forecasts in three communities.
In 2019 we plan to complete the full-scale pilot of the forecast costs and revenues in three villages and prepare ourselves to be impact investment ready. By the end of 2019 we aim to have 100,000 Southeast Asian people benefiting from less marine debris, 2,500 families with access to finance, 1,200 ha of ocean well protected to replenish fish stocks, and double incomes for seaweed farmers in the three pilot communities. Securing impact investment, our medium term goal is to establish 50 hubs that better protect 1 billion m2 of the ocean, provide 10,000 impoverished families with access to finance and improved sources of income, and create a more resilient environment for 1 million people by 2022. Ultimately, our long term vision for Net-Works to benefit the 3.35 million Southeast Asian artisanal reef fishers by reducing marine plastic and increasing fish stocks.
Watch our video to learn more about the Net-Works story and where it all began.