Marine Conservation Entrepreneurship – from trash to trade

Ocean Sole
Published: May 2016
Last edited: March 2019
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Summary

Ocean Sole (OS) is a marine conservation entrepreneurship model, which upcycles discarded flip-flops into products for sale, thus creating an economically viable enterprise, employing the skills of local artisans. Through this process (and associated programmes), OS supports sustainable livelihood alternatives, skills improvements, waste collection and uses this to improve the establishment, management and expansion of local marine protected areas.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Coastal forest
Coral reef
Deep sea
Estuary
Freshwater ecosystems
Mangrove
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Seagrass
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Theme
Marine litter
Protected area governance
Challenges
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected areas

Location

Kenya

Challenges

Marine pollution, limited understanding on marine debris, few alternative livelihood options: • Beaches, oceans and waterways are becoming increasingly polluted with plastic debris; the second biggest plastic pollutant being discarded flip-flops. • Local communities have insufficient knowledge about the negative impact of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems, biodiversity and themselves. • Coastal communities have limited livelihood opportunities beyond unsustainable practices.

Beneficiaries

Ocean Sole Nairobi employs 40 artisans, trained over 100, and works with over 20 suppliers. Flip-flop collectors and suppliers along the Kenyan coast, and support to specific project areas and their communities, incl. women, schools and fisherfolk.

How do the building blocks interact?

The model works through the following building blocks: 1. From Trash to Trade: This building block speaks to the ocean conservation entrepreneurship model which incentivizes local people to protect beaches and waterways by providing alternative livelihoods and income opportunities through a commercially viable enterprise. 2. From Awareness to Understanding: The second block ensures that critical information is recorded so that the model can continually improve, that its impact is understood and that we contribute to wider conservation research agenda. 3. From Understanding to Protection: The implementation of a third block is planned and aims to support the use of this information for wider initiatives to change public and industrial practice. The trade and research elements in BB1 and 2 are used as an entry point to take forward critical advocacy as well as conservation and education projects. The elements of the model described above are interlinked and necessary to provide the complete solution. Ocean Sole Kenya is an example of trash to trade, is currently working on the ‘awareness to understanding’ and will then work successfully implementing the next phase – Understanding to Protection.

Impacts

Each Ocean Sole currently demonstrates: • More than 50,000 kgs of discarded plastic and marine debris is collected each year from the coastlines and waterways of Kenya and turned into works of art and generating global sales of above $ 400,000 per year. • Provides skill development training, livelihood opportunities and an increased income for more than 1,000 local people. • Raised awareness and understanding for more than 10,000 school children, students, local community members and international audiences about marine debris pollution and conservation per annum. Ocean Sole replicating initiatives would be given similar or higher targets.

Story

In 1997 Julie Church, a marine conservationist born and bred in Kenya, was leading the conservation and development project for the Kiunga Marine National Reserve which lies just below Somalia in Northern Kenya. Situated on the remote Island of Kiwayu, Julie was horrified by the waste washing up onto the beaches creating an environmental disaster for the marine ecosystem and species, particularly the sea turtles that came to nest there. Inspired by the toys children were making out of the flip-flop debris, Julie encouraged their mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colourful products. The humble flip-flop became the connection between the human community and their local marine eco-system. A large order from WWF Switzerland for 15,000 turtle key rings was received and we set about empowering the local women (over 100) to create these from an estimated 1000 kgs of discarded flip-flops collected from beaches. This was the first step in ‘commercialsing the business’ and in fact provided the first trade focused initiative that support the women and conservation in the Kiunga Marine National reserve. It also resulted in us streamlining the initial production techniques, and develop high quality products for sale to tourists in Kenya and socially responsible outlets throughout the world. Ocean Sole was established, as Uniqueco initially in 2005, as a ‘hobby’ as Julie continued to work in marine conservation. By 2008/09 Julie realized that after her investments and commitment she needed to turn this into a proper enterprise, and started to work in the business. In 2012/13, a new cofounder came on board, and the business was rebranded to Ocean Sole and today employs 40 artisans to create unique and beautifully hand crafted products. The main workshop is at Marula Studios, a hub of local ingenuity showcasing the work of other creative Kenyans. Ocean Sole currently removes up to 50,000 kgs a year of marine debris from the beaches and seas yearly and generate up to $50,000 in profit a year through upcycling waste into products for sale to local and international markets. Ocean Sole aims to replicate the model as a ‘marine conservation enterprise in a box’ to support marine conservation efforts globally, empower those involved and create a global movement of change. It would also combine education on marine pollution and conservation, training and trade for artisans and support for product development, pricing and marketing.

Contributed by

Julie Church Ocean Sole Foundation

Other contributors

Ocean Sole Foundation