Floating a new idea to clean up oceans

A huge floating device designed by Dutch scientists to clean up a giant island of rubbish in the Pacific Ocean has successfully retrieved plastic for the first time.

Boyan Slat, creator of the Ocean Cleanup project, tweeted that the System 001/B, a 600m-long free-floating boom, had captured debris from the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, the world’s largest ocean plastic accumulation zone. 

Located halfway between Hawaii and California, the patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, covering an area twice the size of Texas, including some of the 800,000 tonnes of fishing gear abandoned or lost at sea each year and 8m tonnes of plastic waste from beaches. 

Launched from Vancouver in June 2019, it is the Ocean Cleanup’s second attempt to prove the concept, and in addition to collecting visible plastic debris and commercial fishing ghost nets, the clean-up has now also successfully captured microplastics.

The system involves a plastic barrier that floats on the sea surface with a 3m-deep screen below, which traps plastic without disturbing marine life. The device is fitted with transmitters and sensors to communicate its position, allowing gathered rubbish to be collected every few months.

Slat, who first presented the concept at a TEDx conference in 2012, founded the Ocean Cleanup at the age of 18 and in 2014 became the youngest recipient of the UN’s highest environmental accolade, Champion of the Earth.

For 60 years, mankind has been putting plastic into the oceans; from this day onwards, we’re taking it back out again

– Boyan Slat creator of Ocean Cleanup

He told a press conference in Rotterdam that his aim is to eventually clean up at least half the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Slat said: “After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights.

“We now have a self-contained system… that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics.

“This now gives us sufficient confidence in the general concept to keep going on this project. In a few years’ time, when we have the full-scale fleet out there, it should be possible to cover the operational cost of the clean-up operation using the plastic harvested.

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