The World's Largest Ocean Cleanup Has Officially Begun

Ambitious dreams have now become a reality as the Ocean Cleanup deploys its $20 million system designed to clean up the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Check out another Forbes piece on how Ocean Cleanup aims to reuse and recycle the ocean plastic.

The floating boom system was deployed on Saturday from San Francisco Bay and will undergo several weeks of testing before being hauled into action. The system was designed by the nonprofit Ocean Cleanup, which was founded in 2013 by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat. Their mission is to develop "advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic."

The floating boom system, with the help of dozens of more booms, is estimated to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the first five years. Each boom will trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year as they float along the currents between California and Hawaii.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vortex of trash created from an ocean gyre in the central North Pacific. The trash vortex was discovered in the mid-1980s and lies halfway between Hawaii and California.

Location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the subtropical convergence zone
Location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the subtropical convergence zone

The garbage patch is so large, it is easily detectable from space via satellites and covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometers and 1.8 trillion pieces of debris. The trash is collected and trapped within a circulating ocean current, called a gyre. This prevents the distribution of the garbage patch, a benefit when creating a system to collect the plastic.

The floating boom system, after undergoing testing, will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October and begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom to collect the plastic and transport it to land for sorting and recycling.

The idea is that the 10 feet of netting is not deep enough that fish can't swim below it, with the hope that the boom will collect trash and not fish. However, this is something that remains to be seen in the open ocean.

While the organization has ambitious plans and the technology still remains unproven in the open ocean, they are the closest to a solution to cleaning up the garbage patch we have. No other company has a deployable system able to clean up the garbage patch on this scale.

The company is backed by some heavy hitters in the tech industry, including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com

Continued testing and deployment of additional boom systems will help further refine the systems to be more efficient and less disruptive to ocean ecosystems.

I am a geologist passionate about sharing Earth's intricacies with you. I received my PhD from Duke University where I studied the geology and climate of the Amazon. I am the founder of Science Trends, a leading source of science news and analysis on everything from climate.

Trevor Nace, PhD geologist, founder of Science Trends, Forbes contributor, and explorer

 

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