The Broadcast / Waterhaul: A Day In The Life

Waterhaul: A Day In The Life

From problem to product. For the last five years local pioneers Waterhaul have been leading the charge on cleaning Cornwall’s coastline of ghost fishing gear – repurposing it into top-tier beach-ready sunglasses. We recently spent the day with the crew at their Newquay headquarters, sitting down with founder Harry Dennis, before heading out to clean Boscastle Beach.

Check our new sunglasses, built in partnership with Waterhaul, here.


8 min read

Written by Harry Dennis

Image by Waterhaul & Finisterre

As surfers, activists and adventurers, we see first-hand the problem ghost fishing gear creates. So, tell us how Waterhaul came to be – and how it grew from moment of inspiration to world-class innovation.

It was the accumulation of experiences, continuously encountering the ghost gear problem – from both a working perspective and through personal experiences exploring the Cornish coastline and further afield – that led to Waterhaul. Every shoreline shows the evidence of this problem. My background is as a marine biologist and, being underwater, I’d seen the devastating impact ghost fishing gear can have first-hand. This was in the back of my mind every time I encountered those bright turquoise strands of net in the sand.

The roots of the Waterhaul idea were formed whilst working for Surfers Against Sewage at Wheal Kitty workshops, right next door to Finisterre. Being involved with the incredible mass-mobilisations of activists tackling plastic across the UK coastline, and finding the vast majority of beach clean plastic to be ghost gear, really pushed me to look for an answer. Flipping the problem on its head, I realised that the properties which made ghost gear such a problem – its abundance, strength, and likelihood to cause harm – present opportunities and make it a priority target to remove from the ocean.

This started an obsession with the problem. After a long period of design trials, mistakes, material failures and a massive learning curve, the first 100% recycled fishing gear prototype came out of the mould in November 2018. This was a huge moment. I finally had proof that this idea was possible, and it gave me huge motivation to go all in on this project. Soon after, my colleague from SAS, Gavin, took a leap and together we threw ourselves into building Waterhaul into the brand it is today.

"Waterhaul is a term originating from Newfoundland cod fisheries, used to describe the act of hauling in a net absent of any catch. Unlike its original use, for us, hauling an empty net from the ocean is a success."


Waterhaul: A Day In The Life
Waterhaul: A Day In The Life

Your approach to creating purposeful product from marine waste is both unique and an inspiration. Talk us through – from collection to finished glasses.

As you saw from our Boscastle expedition, we collect our raw material through two pathways. The first is by directly recovering the ghost gear snagged across the coves, caves and boulders of the Cornish shoreline. And we also work with the ports, harbours and fishers to provide an end-of-life solution for waste fishing gear.

The nets, lines and ropes we collect are constructed from different forms of plastic, which we manually sort and separate. These polymers are thermoplastics, meaning that with heat they’ll melt, become pliable and mouldable, and when cooled will solidify. We recycle using a mechanical process, breaking the ropes and nets into fibres, which can then be washed to remove contaminants like salt, sand and algae. The next stages use friction and heat to melt the plastic into a more usable pellet form. These pellets are then the building blocks for our products.

We work with a family run Italian factory to mould our frames. By doing so we tap into the years of experience and craftsmanship involved with making premium quality eyewear and, at our current scale, this is currently considerably more carbon efficient that replicating the specialist machinery and operations here in Cornwall ourselves. Likewise, our Polarised Mineral Glass+ lenses are also made and glazed into our frames in Italy.

How did you land on the idea of sunglasses?  

When designing a product, there were several key criteria. Firstly, we wanted to create a product that could utilise and showcase the true performance potential of this plastic. We wanted to harness ghost gear’s incredible strength (the reason why it causes so much harm in the ocean) towards a new purpose.

We also needed to create something that you’d value (and would continue to use for a lifetime) to challenge the perception of this plastic as ‘waste’, and drive a pathway to a circular economy solution.

Finally, the product had to be something that was purposeful, which could inspire adventure and play a role in people’s connection with the ocean.

These criteria lead towards sunglasses, but a core piece to the puzzle was a frustration with what was currently available. A lifestyle involving lots of sand and salt meant a very short lifespan for plastic lenses found in 99% of sunglasses; but the mineral glass lenses suited to this environment came only with luxury brands (along with their £250+ price tags). By combining sustainability, purpose and performance, there was an opportunity to create an accessible product that filled a gap. Something that we wanted but didn’t exist yet.

Waterhaul: A Day In The Life
Waterhaul: A Day In The Life

Looking back, any particular challenges that stand out, and how did you overcome them?

Stepping into the world of the eyewear industry was in itself an eye opener. It’s unique, in being such a large global industry dominated by so few players (the Luxxotica group owns an 80% market share). There was a certain way of doing things; set expectations of methods, materials and packaging, and sustainability wasn’t a factor considered in any of these. We wanted to do things very differently. Eventually, we found a partner in the form of a family run factory in Northern Italy who believed in the Waterhaul mission and was willing to work with us and our plastic to make it a reality. They’ve been our partner in production ever since.

With an eye on the future, do you have plans to expand your waste collection beyond Cornwall? And what of future product innovations?

We’ve created a model for transforming a waste problem into a valued resource in the UK. However, the ghost gear problem exists on a global scale, and we believe, so should our model. We’re currently developing solutions to enable us to replicate and mobilise specialist recycling hubs to coastal locations beyond the shores of Cornwall.

In terms of sunglasses and eyewear, we’re expanding our range with new styles and options and working on some innovations in material traceability. Watch this space.

We anticipate that partnerships will be a core driver of future product-based innovations. Once this sunglasses launch is complete, we’d love to put our heads together with the Finisterre design team to see what other purposeful products we could co-create!

Waterhaul: A Day In The Life
Waterhaul: A Day In The Life

Follow Waterhaul here.


Check our new sunglasses, built in partnership with Waterhaul, here.


Share on Facebook Share on Twitter