New invention preps to clean up Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

Nov 25, 2018

The state of our oceans today is at a critical point, and this fact is practically undeniable. Most individuals, from the most radical to most conservative, would likely agree that there is way too much plastic in our oceans.

I would think, by now, just about anyone would applaud coming up with a solution. And indeed, entrepreneurs have put forth some genius ideas, with hopeful-looking graphic animations popping up online every now and then. Amazingly, now, one of these genius ideas has become a reality.

Dubbed “Savior of the Ocean,” Boyan Slat, from the Netherlands, has invented a new technology for cleaning up the ocean, and has brought his idea to life. He devised a 600-meter-long floating barrier to skim the surface, collecting plastic debris. It is now completely built and in its testing stage.

After testing, Slat hopes to tow the invention, dubbed “Wilson” after the famed “Castaway” prop, to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), a debris-filled area three times larger than France containing an estimated 80,000 metric tons of trash.

Illustration showing how “Winston” traps plastic debris. Inspirestory

Slat’s invention officially cast off from San Francisco in September and was undergoing testing 250 miles off the coast.

Winston (also known as System 001) consists of 60 large tube units joined together to form a giant “U,” which floats on the ocean surface. A skirt 3 meters deep hangs below the barrier to capture any plastic 1 centimeter in diameter or larger. The barrier uses wind-power ocean currents to move through the ocean faster than the plastic, allowing the plastic debris to accumulate.

“Moving with wind and currents in the same way plastic does, the barrier should self-adjust once deployed,” says oceanographer Laurent Lebreton. “It will trap large debris before it can break down into harmful microplastics. Some 92 percent of plastic in the region is made up of pieces larger than 5mm so that is our focus.”

The plan is to have the plastic waste collected every six months and shipped to the Netherlands for recycling, and to remove 150,000 pounds (approx. 68,039 kg) of plastic per year.

According to estimates, the GPGP could be reduced by half in five years. And in theory, a full fleet of units could remove 90 percent of the world’s surface plastic by 2040.

The project does have its skeptics however. Rick Stafford, professor of marine biology and conservation at Bournemouth University, expressed concerns that fish and turtles might also be trapped in the process. If the invention works as designed, though, it should allow wildlife to swim under the skirt to safety.

“It could remove a lot of large plastics from the ocean, which is positive as long as it will not harm sea life,” said Stafford.

 

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