Sweeping The Seas Free Of Plastic
One of the most significant problems facing the marine environment is plastic debris. Some people view it as an impossible obstacle to overcome, but not Boyan Slat, a 23-year-old who has invented a way to tackle this issue head-on.
Boyan Slat is from the Netherlands and at the age of 16 he only had one goal in life: to rid the oceans of plastic. When diving in Greece, he noticed that he encountered higher numbers of plastic bags compared to fish. He experienced a eureka moment and came up with the concept of a floating barrier that could gather plastic debris by using the sole power of ocean currents. After two years of developing his idea, he made his dream a reality and in 2013 started his own company: The Ocean Cleanup. His project uses devices that consist of U-shaped barriers equipped with nets that drop below the surface. The nets trap floating plastic debris and microplastics that move with the current, but also allow marine life to swim beneath them. Every few weeks, a boat collects the accumulated debris for recycling.
This organisation focuses on areas where most plastic gathers, known as ocean gyres. Ocean gyres are large systems of circulating ocean currents where, once debris gets dragged into them, they are usually trapped in this oceanic holding pattern. The most problematic area in the world is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In 2018, it was found that the plastic pollution here was accumulating at a faster rate than any other gyre. This is where the Ocean Cleanup stepped in! After a year of testing, their prototype System 001/B successfully captured and collected plastic pollution using the natural force of the Pacific Ocean.
The success of System 001/B means we have the capability to clear the oceans of plastic, but the company advocates there is still a lot more work to be done. They have started planning their next ocean clean-up system, called System 002, which will be on a larger scale than the previous model. They hope the final design will give the device the endurance it needs to retain collected plastic for long periods of time. They predict that if this device is used for 5 years it will be able to halve the amount of plastic in this gyre, which will be a huge step for marine conservation!