With more than 20 years’ experience in coastal community focused sustainable enterprise, Nick Hill has long been passionate about the impacts of modern industry on our precious oceans and waterways. In 2020, Nick co-founded Coast 4C, a new venture aimed at unlocking the potential of regenerative seaweed farming and the circular economy to deliver benefits for communities, conservation, climate and commerce.
Nick’s journey towards sustainable marine agriculture all started from his hometown in Shropshire, UK, watching David Attenborough documentaries. “So that led me towards a big interest in the ocean space in general. I started off life swimming, sailing, learning to dive. I've had the opportunity to go to Kenya, and on my first dive, I rolled off the boat and landed on a manta ray. And I was kind of hooked on the ocean ever since. I became an ecologist first when I went to university, and it's a very useful background, and basis for my way of viewing the world. However, marine conservation is all really about actually understanding people and how you manage people. So I went further and further down the realm of socio economics.”
In partnership with the Zoological Society of London and sustainable commercial flooring manufacturer Interface, Nick was instrumental in setting up the Net-Works project. Net-Works redesigns global supply chains to create sustainable and scalable solutions that reduce marine plastic through a focus on re-use of discarded fishing nets, increase fish stocks, and improve the lives of marginalised coastal communities living in biodiversity hotspots of developing countries. Net-Works aims to move away from the traditionally philanthropic, grant-based model of conservation that requires a steady stream of funding, to a model that is self-sustaining through a functioning business model.
Net-Works focuses on the community benefits in the places they operate, as Nick explains. “The benefit is twofold. One one hand, we look to improve the livelihood side. So they get better access to markets, they get a higher price, they get better access to financial services, more financial inclusion, for example. So that's really important. They can start to increase the yields from seaweed, or from intercepting end of life fishing nets for recycling. So they can get value for those products, and they can get better value for those products. So that's on the livelihood side. On the other hand, it’s about empowerment.
“A lot of the time, people in these sorts of communities don't feel like they're able to take control of their own lives, and the impacts around them,” he continues. “And when you look at things like the increasing frequency and severity of tropical storms, they feel very helpless about that sort of thing. But with these sorts of projects, then one of the big things we can help them with is actually that empowerment, that they can take some sort of action that helps to improve the quality of the marine resources and the environment around them and helps to increase their resilience.”
As all good partnerships are, the Net-Works partnership with Interface was borne of a simple yet powerful insight: that the nylon material being used to make fishing nets around the world could be turned into a raw material for use in the manufacture of carpet tiles. “As fish stocks are declining, fishing nets are getting bigger and bigger, and fishers need to change nets quite regularly, because they break for whatever reason. Sometimes fishers are using up to 20 kilometres of fishing net at a time. Those fishing nets are made of nylon six, which is the same material on the top side of carpet tiles that Interface produces. So that was the connection that we wanted to make - could we intercept these fishing nets before they become waste, process them, and extract them in such a way that they could then be sent on to companies such as Interface, and others in the fashion and flooring industry.”
Hear more about the fascinating processes and projects behind the Net-Works initiative, the future of marine plastic, and the importance of seaweed forests by listening to the full podcast episode here.