Our oceans are polluted with tons of plastic and inorganic material. Cleaning it up isn’t going to be easy, but someone’s got to do it.
And they’re starting now.
A $20 million floating boom system designed by nonprofit Ocean Cleanup has been deployed near San Francisco, Forbes reports. After being thoroughly tested, the device’s main task is to wrangle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawai’i, which comprises an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of discarded trash, weighing about 80,000 tons.
This initiative is taking on one of the world’s biggest problems, one which threatens to strangle the earth’s marine life and cause serious health issues for humans on shore. It was also the invention of an 18-year-old.
Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, now 24, founded Ocean Cleanup on 2013 with the mission of creating and deploying “advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.” Slat first became interested in cleaning up the oceans after a scuba diving trip in the Mediterranean Sea, where he saw more plastic bags than fish.
Now he’s set on reversing that ratio.
It will take about five years to clean up half of the garbage patch, Slat estimates, with a series of his booms collecting about 150,000 pounds of trash each year. Now sprawled out over about 618,000 square miles, the patch is actually visible from space. Ocean currents keep the patch within the central North Pacific, which makes the clean-up process a lot more manageable.
But it’s going to take a lot of time, and a lot of work.
According to Clean Technica, the latest version of the boom system is named “Wilson” after the volleyball Tom Hanks’ character befriended in the movie “Castaway.” Wilson is made up of 60 floating booms joined together in a U shape, with a special netting hanging about 10 feet below each boom to collect smaller pieces of trash.
“It could remove a lot of large plastics from the ocean, which is positive as long as it will not harm sea life,” said Rick Stafford, a professor of marine biology and conservation at Bournemouth University.
It’s inevitable that some fish and other marine life may find themselves entangled by the booms, but the alternative is much worse.
“Plankton and different types of marine life are already affected by the floating debris out there. We will work with the knowledge we gain to minimize any impact,” said Ocean Cleanup CEO Lonneke Holierhoek. “We feel a sense of urgency to start cleaning up and to learn how our ideas will work in reality. But this is by no means the end of the process. We believe we can scale up pretty quickly and have a full fleet of systems in the north Pacific by 2021.”
Wilson will be tested for the next few weeks about 250 miles away from the San Francisco Bay. Once the tests are completed, Tugboats will drag the boom system out to the garbage patch in mid-October. When they’ve collected enough debris, another ship will close the loop and ferry the trash 1,400 miles back to shore where it will be sorted and recycled.
Learn more in the video below!
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.