While the troubling problem of plastic pollution in the ocean has been gaining more attention lately, an innovative solution presented in a TED talk by an 18 year old is starting to to have an impact seven years later.
Ocean Cleanup this week announced that after seven years of trial and error it has fine-tuned a device that can pick up debris ranging from large crates to ghost nets to plastic as small as one millimeter in the water. The NGO’s founder, Boyen Slat, first presented the idea of a giant barrier near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a TEDx talk when he was 18 years old. He is first to admit that there had been some spectacular failures in the unforgiving environment of the high seas.
All that hard work has been rewarded with a self-contained system that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic. The device is a U-shaped barrier that drops a net below the surface. As the current moves, the net traps faster moving objects that float into it. There is no danger to fish and other marine life as they are able to swim beneath it. The breakthrough has led the non-profit organisation to estimate that by using ocean currents, its passive drifting systems could clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the largest accumulation of plastic in the world’s oceans three times the size of France) in five years’ time.
“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that 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,” Slat said.
While OceanCleanUp is tackling the problem on a large international scale, other bright young minds have come up with solutions to tackle the scourge of microplastics. Earlier this year scientists were shocked to discover microplastics present in ice core samples taken from the Arctic, while reports of plastics found in bird and sea life come up regularly. Shocking pictures of marine life caught up in plastic waste spurred one Stellenbosch student into inventing edible straws and an Irish student has found a way to extract microplastics from the sea to address this problem.
For more information you can visit the theoceancleanup.com and watch a video and read their press release here. The NGO has several vacancies in Rotterdam is recruiting volounteers globally, with details on the career page.