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Why Southeast Asia?

By Nick Hill |

To date we have successfully established hubs in the Philippines and Cameroon. But as we expand and scale the model, our focus is primarily on Southeast Asia. Why?

The short answer is that this focus is to do with the threats that we are aiming to address, and the opportunity to do so.  We will continue with our operations in Cameroon, where we have just exported our first shipment of nets. But for now, Southeast Asia is where we can make the biggest difference.

Globally, 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans and over 100 million tonnes of fish are removed each year. On current trajectories, by 2025 there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish.

Southeast Asia is the hotspot for these issues and for marine biodiversity. An estimated 3.35 million artisanal reef fishers (>50% of the global total) live in Southeast Asia and depend on declining fish stocks. The top five countries together contribute 60% of the world’s marine debris. These include China and four Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Fishers in Southeast Asia are amongst the poorest sectors of society, and face some of the greatest pressure from declining resources. For example, in the Philippines >35% of fishers live below the national poverty line and >75% of fishing grounds are overfished. Southeast Asia is a hotspot for both critically important coral reefs and mangroves, which are not only essential for food and income provision, but also for protection from the increasing frequency and severity of storms.

Community-based Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and mangrove rehabilitation are key tools for restoring coastal ecosystems and enhancing socio-ecological resilience. For example, there are >1,500 MPAs in the Philippines. But on average, due to high dependence of communities on fishing, they are too small to be effective or to meet national or international targets (average of 12ha of No-Take Zone per MPA), they typically focus only on coral reefs and do not capture seagrasses or mangroves, and they suffer from cycles of boom and bust due to high donor dependence. Mangrove planting is often undertaken as part of Corporate Social Responsibility programmes, or through the National Greening Programme, but unfortunately suffer from poor practice (the wrong species in the wrong places) and lack of follow up. As a result, despite huge investment, MPAs and mangrove rehabilitation in the region are not delivering sustainable protection of coastal ecosystems at the scale that is needed to tackle the threats.

As well as being a hotspot for marine debris, >85% of carrageenan comes from seaweed grown in Southeast Asia. Seaweed farming is already a very popular activity across Southeast Asia, critical to the livelihoods of millions of fishers. An estimated 1 million fishers in the Philippines alone are dependent on seaweed farming for income and the Philippines is second only to Indonesia in levels of production. Seaweed farming is thus a pre-scaled industry across coastal communities that are suffering from the highest levels of pressure from overfishing and marine plastics. Whilst the global market value for carrageenan is increasing rapidly, with a projected value of around $1bn by 2021, the current supply chain is fraught with inefficiencies and inequalities. Therefore, carrageenan is fast becoming the ‘palm oil of the sea’.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Net-Works provides a simple, scalable and holistic solution that addresses these issues through our innovative and inclusive business model to reduce plastic and increase fish (read about Net-Works here)– creating a win-win-win for conservation, development, and business.


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