The Ocean Cleanup has launched! System 001, the 600-meter long prototype, was towed under the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving San Francisco Harbor for the Pacific Ocean. Its target is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge mass of floating debris located between California and Hawaii.
The tow vessel can’t miss it, because it’s the world’s largest accumulation of ocean plastic, estimated to contain 80,000 tons and stretching over an area twice the size of Texas. For those non-Texans, that’s about 1 million square miles.
The Pacific patch is the largest of five similar, garbage patches or “gyres.” Two are found in the Pacific, one in the Indian Ocean and two in the Atlantic. Ocean currents gather everything that floats from abandoned fishing gear to plastic water bottles to styrofoam and concentrates it in these gyres.
“Why Can’t We Just Clean This Up”
Ocean Cleanup is the brainchild of Boyan Slat, a young Dutch entrepreneur who founded the company in 2013 after scuba diving in Greece and being confronted with more ocean garbage than fish. (photo – Earth.com)
Slat was not on the tow ship in San Francisco Harbor, because he gets seasick. “For sixty years it has only gotten worse (ocean plastic) and worse. Now hopefully we’re turning the tide.”
The Ocean Cleanup System
Ocean Cleanup is a fairly straightforward system. It’s a 600-meter long floating boom, curved into a horseshoe, with a 3-meter skirt that drops below the surface.
The free-floating, unmanned boom moves on the same ocean currents that carry the floating plastic. However, the boom moves faster because it also catches wind that the floating plastic does not.
It is important to point out that the boom is slow moving and the 3 meter deep skirt is impenetrable and not a net. It is thought that entrapping marine life will not be an issue, although that has been a frequently voiced criticism of the proposal.
The debris concentrated within the boom is then collected by a support vessel that removes the trash to land. There it is studied to better understand its origins and then will be recycled.
Solar powered systems on the boom communicate its position via satellite at all times thereby avoiding potential collisions with shipping. The developers are eager to see how System 001 handles the Pacific’s ferocious storms.
System 001 will undergo several weeks of testing before it is towed into the North Pacific Gyre. Ocean Cleanup intends to learn from System 001 and adapt those findings to the construction of additional Systems. A fleet of 60 similar booms will be needed to collect 50% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every five years.
“Garbage Patches Won’t Go Away By Themselves”
“Even if we were to close the tap today the plastic would still be there in 100 years.” Slat sees his work as a race against time. A race to what? To collect as much waste as possible before it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces or “microplastics.” Microplastics can eventually enter the food chain.
Scientific Reports estimates that as of today only 8% of ocean plastic pollution has disintegrated into microplastics. “But of course what’s going to happen over the next few decades is that all the other 92% of plastic will be turned into microplastics as well,” Slat says. “So the sooner we get it out, the better.”
Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is an enormous problem and efforts like Ocean Cleanup can only succeed if we can stop plastics from flowing into the ocean. See Could 5 countries solve 50% of the world’s Ocean Plastic Pollution?
By Blue Ocean Network
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