Young Genius Devises Master Plan For Cleaning World’s Oceans
As you read this, there’s a several-hundred-mile-wide patche of plastic garbage floating around the Pacific ocean between California and East Asia — a modern monstrosity known as the “North Pacific Trash Gyre.” The Gyre’s plastic in bits absorb toxic chemicals, fish and birds eat the plastic, and it either kills them or we humans ingest them when they’re served up on our dinner plates as Filet de Coke Bottle.
Cleaning the plastic out of the ocean has always been a daunting task because it would require massive amounts of people working around the clock in dangerous oceanic conditions (and thus tons of money) and could endanger marine life if any gets caught in any nets and vacuum pumps.
So 22-year-old Dutch environmentalist and aerospace engineering student Boyan Slat came up an idea on how to start removing some of the 7.25 million tons of plastic currently afloat in the ocean without all that time, money, and lost life. It’s basically a large, v-shaped barrier made of a stationary platform and two mile-long arms. The arms have wide swooping curtains that catch the plastic as it is carried by the current.
Since the curtain only extends a few meters underwater, it safely catches all the floating garbage while other marine life swims underneath. It can also catch tiny plastic microbeads floating in the ocean while using a centrifuge to safely filter out tiny plankton that smaller fish eat.
Every so often, a mechanized container collects the garbage using a conveyer belt and stores it until a ship comes by to empty it out every six weeks for recycling. According to Slat’s feasibility study conducted by 100 other scientists and engineers, a 62-mile long cleanup line could help rid the North Pacific Trash Gyre of about half its garbage in just 10 years.
The first platform will be placed in the ocean for a two-year study starting in 2016. If successful, more will likely follow. However, since the Gyre exists in international waters, Slat has had to depend on a combination of funding and research help from interested citizens, intergovernmental groups, and independent private initiatives to get his project afloat.
Granted, the oceans will only stay clean if there’s also a plan for reducing the the amount of plastic that goes into it in the first place, but Slat’s plan is certainly a great start. You can learn more at the Ocean Cleanup Project.