Have you ever wondered where that message in a bottle that you threw into the ocean might end up?
There is a good chance it could have made it into one of 5 ocean gyres, patches of debris circulating in our oceans where it is estimated that over 5 trillion pieces of garbage currently reside. This is an everyday problem, not just something to think about on World Ocean Day once a year.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The largest gyre by far is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is there, spread across millions of square kilometers, where trash mainly made up of plastic materials has accumulated and now circulates. This garbage poses a huge threat to the environment and the surrounding ecosystem. There is already substantial evidence showing the harmful effects it has on sea life due to animals ingesting debris or getting tangled in it.
For instance, it has made an enormous impact on the albatross population that migrates from Alaska all the way to the island of Midway, near Hawaii. These birds have been mistaking plastic pieces for the squid that they hunt for in Alaska. They then travel thousands of kilometers to Midway, where many have been found dead with stomachs full of plastic. Just have a look at the photo evidence captured by Chris Jordan.
The debate over the most efficient cleanup methods has been going on for several years since the discovery of the garbage patch, but many of the proposed methods were either too costly or just inefficient. That is until June 3, 2014, when then 19-year-old Boyan Slat proved the design he came up with was a feasible method to start turning back the clock on the Pacific Garbage Patch and others like it.
Now the CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, he is working with some of the top scientists, oceanographers, and engineers across the globe to develop advanced technologies to aid in the cleanup effort.
Various garbage found in the Pacific ocean.
How Efficient is Boyan Slat’s Design?
It is now being claimed that Boyan Slat’s invention and a full-scale deployment could clean up 50% of the Pacific Garbage Patch within five years.
What was it about his invention that propelled it above all other proposed solutions?
According to The Ocean Cleanup, other ideas required such things as vessels pulling nets, which could take thousands of years and billions of dollars to accomplish a successful cleanup. However, Slat found a way to use the ocean currents to his advantage and achieve an efficient system that could operate at a fraction of the cost compared to conventional methods. His system is not a stationary design. They will be drifting through the ocean concentrating on areas with the most debris.
By using a suspended anchor, the system will drift slower than the surrounding water which will allow the debris to get caught and collected as it drifts through the ocean. By using a drifting system, it will allow the system to flow with the currents and winds, therefore reducing the stress upon the system as a whole. A stationary system would need to be able to withstand the combined forces of the currents and winds; this is what makes a drifting system that much more practical.
When a system reaches capacity, a support vessel can be sent out to empty it. The collected plastic will be sent back to land, sorted, and finally recycled to be used again.
Check out this video to get a look at the design of the cleanup system and how it will be deployed in the North Pacific to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch.
Luckily, for now, most of the garbage in the ocean is somewhat large, but it is crucial that the clean-up effort gets under way as soon as possible because over time the plastic particles will break down into dangerous microplastics which are virtually impossible to remove from the water. Most of the debris is either floating or suspended within several feet of the surface, making a successful clean-up entirely possible.
How Soon Will the Clean-Up Effort Begin?
A test system has already been deployed in the North Sea near the Netherlands. Lessons have been learned from the test system, and the design is being improved to withstand fatigue. Pacific trials are set to begin in late 2017. If everything goes well, a continuous deployment is scheduled to begin in mid-2018. The Ocean Cleanup has set goals for garbage free oceans by the year 2050.
Over the last few decades, it has become common knowledge that our actions and our bad habits can have a major impact on our environment. This planet is our home, and it is imperative that we work together to preserve it and not take it for granted. It is the responsibility of every human being to work together to ensure that this planet will be able to sustain itself for generations to come.
If we don’t do our part, our children and their children will have to work twice as hard to fix the problems we have created.
If you want to learn more about the current cleanup efforts, including the Pacific Garbage Patch, visit: TheOceanCleanup.com