The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2018 Finalist

Empowering Communities, Replenishing the Ocean

Empowering Communities, Replenishing the Ocean

Net-Works improves the lives of marginalised coastal communities living in biodiversity hotspots of developing countries. They do this by redesigning global supply chains to create sustainable and scalable solutions for reducing marine plastics and increasing fish stocks.

Networks’ case for change spells out their view that on the current trajectory of plastics 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. This is especially true in Southeast Asia, the centre of marine biodiversity, which Net-Works found contributes more than 60% of the world’s marine debris, 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 for restoring coastal ecosystems and enhancing socio-ecological resilience. Though there are over 1,500 MPAs in the Philippines, these are often too small to be effective due to the high dependence of communities on fishing. They are also too dependent on donor funding cycles and typically focus on coral reefs without capturing critical seagrasses or mangroves.

Net-Works’ simple, scalable and holistic model applies the principles of fair trade and inclusive business, creating efficient community-based supply chains for raw materials including plastics and seaweed carrageenan*. By increasing income from seaweed, this reduces the community’s dependence on fishing, enabling them to set aside larger NTZs.

The raw materials are sold into global supply chains, giving international brands the opportunity to source premium products with a positive social and environmental story. This gives fishing communities a more transparent and dependable price and provides sustainable funding sources for local conservation and development. Net-Works also sets up community banks, which bring communities together into informal cooperatives and provide much-needed access to financial services. This enables members to invest in their sustainable livelihoods and build a Net-Works conversation constituency.

*Carageenans - a family of linear sulphated polysaccharides extracted from red edible seaweeds that are widely used in the food industry for their gelling, thickening and stabilising properties.


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