“Cleanup using conventional methods – vessels and nets – would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Our passive system could remove about half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years, at a fraction of the cost.” – Quote from The Ocean Cleanup Homepage
Entire species are being threatened by the plastic problem. One million sea birds and one hundred thousand mammals are killed by plastic every year. There have been many attempts to clean the plastic out from our oceans. One of the original cleanup projects were held in fishing boats which would pull gigantic nets through the oceans, sweeping up anything and everything in the waters. However, as well as pulling in fish and other natural sealife, if this was the only way we went about removing plastic from our oceans it would take a total of 79000,00 years to rid the oceans completely of plastic. And that’s only if we stop consuming the stuff and throwing the plastic back in the oceans, faster than they can remove it.
Consequently, a young boy of 17, Boyan Slat started questioning whether there might be an alternative to cleaning up the oceans, during a science project one year. The thought of emptying the oceans of our plastic occupied his mind so much that he ended up pursuing it completely. After struggles with finances, over 300 companies he contacted for sponsorship refusing his plea for funding, and the majority of people believing that his idea was impossible, on 26th March 2013 his story went viral. A crowdfunding page was started and they raised enough money to assemble a team of 100 volunteers and professionals. Suddenly, he was no longer alone.
After being given such varying statistics from multiple professionals about the amount of plastic that was really in the oceans, they came up with a project called The Mega Expedition. The Mega Expedition crossed The Great Pacific Garbage Patch with 30 boats at the same time. Taking more measurements in three weeks than the forty years before, it was the first time that anyone had measured all of the debris (small and large) and over 1.5 million pieces of plastic were counted, piece by piece, by the lab team. This was the largest amount of plastic that had ever been discovered in the great pacific garbage patch before.
After their research lead them to discover that most plastics can be found in the top three metres of the ocean (depending on the weather) Slat and his team engineered a floating barrier than can survive over 95% of conditions. Any impact or entanglement on fish or other mammals is virtually impossible. The system is one of the strongest floating barriers anywhere in the world. It is made out of ten different layers of material, it is designed to survive loads of up to 80 tons, as well as being cut proof. The team claim that even if a shark were to bite on it, the system would survive.
The system is fairly large being one and a half metres below and one and a half metres above the water. It allows them to capture both large and small pieces of debris and plastic. To maximise the knowledge that they could gain from the prototype, it was fitted with motion sensors (four throughout the whole system to measure the force), and camera systems to monitor the whole prototype from mission control 24/7.
By 2020 The Ocean Cleanup team should be able to initiate the largest clean-up in history. If Slat and his team are successful, his phenomenal invention could change the face of the planet’s oceans forever.