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Baler Close Up

The Beautiful Blue Baler

I’m in Bantayan, northern Cebu – one of our Net-Works sites. It’s my first time here and as the ferry from the mainland comes into port, the first impression is of a beautiful island with golden beaches. Looking more closely, the impact of typhoon Haiyan, which devastated this small group of islands in November 2013, becomes more apparent. There’s still a lot of debris around, tents dominate the landscape, and the coconut palms seem frozen in time with their fronds blown sideways. And yet the resilience of the Philippines’ people shines through with a prevailing sense of industry and purpose as people work to rebuild their homes and lives. Net-Works is part of the resilience story in Bantayan and it’s an exciting time to visit the project as the team are working towards the first major export of nets from this collection hub.

After bouncing our way along a dirt track we reach the net storage and collection area and meet the Project Dungganon women working through our Net-Works partners, Negros Women for Tomorrow (http://nwtf.org.ph/). I never thought I could be so excited to see a net baler in operation, but I am! Two members of the local community are systematically piling fluffy piles of cleaned nets into this lovely blue gadget, weaving rope through at points, turning a wheel, and right there next to it is a growing pile of rectangular bales. It looks simple, but reflects hours of painstaking work and problem solving by the Net-Works team, using engineering expertise from Interface and a lot of local knowledge and skills. This baler had simple but challenging criteria – cheap to build, work without electricity, use local materials and be relatively easy to transport. To me, this blue baler summarises the Net-Works partnership – innovation, creativity and sheer tenacity and unity of the team in finding solutions. And I like that it’s blue!

Around the corner lies the task ahead for the baling team. I still can’t quite get my head around the sheer volumes of nets involved in Net-Works. I am looking at over 10 tonnes of nets that otherwise would be defacing those beautiful golden beaches or tangled around the coral reefs that surround the Bantayan islands catching and killing the stunning marine life that populates Philippines’ seas. A group of women check the nets are clean from seaweed or shells, the bags are weighed, then moved to be baled. The next step will be to load these bales onto local outrigger boats and transport them to Cebu port where they will be loaded onto a container ship to Slovenia for recycling into yarn which can be used to make Interface carpet tiles.

My final stop is at the meeting centre for the Project Dungganon women which they are really proud to show me. This simple new building replaces their old facility that was completely destroyed by the typhoon. Thanks to external funds raised as donations from Interface, we were able to rebuild this focal point and hub of activity for women in the community. I leave feeling a real sense of relief that those nets are no longer doing harm to the ocean and delight that they are bringing real benefits to the local communities, especially at such a vital time after the typhoon.

If you’d like to know more about how we bale our nets… check http://net-works.com/2014/08/01/under-pressure-baling-nets-without-electricity/.

Dr Heather Koldewey, the Head of Global Conservation Programmes at the Zoological Society of London

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