Update: Assembly of Pacific Garbage Patch Cleanup System Under Way

Outside The Ocean Cleanup assembly yard at the old Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda, CA. April 12, 2018. Photo by Jeannette Chiappone.

Outside The Ocean Cleanup assembly yard at the old Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda, CA. April 12, 2018. Photo by Jeannette Chiappone

April 20, 2018

This baby’s coming together! 

Ten individual pipes of The Ocean Cleanup test system are now welded together into an impressive 120-meter floatation buffer. The next critical step in its construction is securing the screen mesh to the buffer which, working together, will catch plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sea anchors will then be attached to the bottom of the screen. (Check here for more details about the design and engineering of the Ocean Cleanup system.)

If this sounds a bit tricky to put together on such a humongous scale, imagine then wrapping the screen and anchors around one section of buffer at a time, and carefully easing that section into the nearby lagoon before repeating the process with the next section. Times ten!

Once the system, all 120 meters of it, is secured and wrapped up in the lagoon, it’ll be hitched to a tug and towed two nautical miles to sea. There, the screen and anchors will unfurl for the next part of the test.

Call it a wet run, if you will. The towing trial is an opportunity to work out any snags or wrinkles  relatively close to shore before the full-sized system is deployed later this summer. The optimal speed at which the system can be safely towed will be determined during the wet run, too. 

The final Ocean Cleanup system will have to travel over 1,300 miles in whatever conditions arise, so this test is critical. Once it’s far, far at sea, numerous monitoring systems will send data back to shore, letting the team know how it’s going out there. 

But first, the wet runs. May the trials be abundantly informative and successful!

April 12, 2018

Assembly of The Ocean Cleanup System, the first apparatus designed to remove plastics from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, reached a major milestone today. Welding of hard-walled pipes into a single boom commenced at the old Alameda Naval Air Station. The enormous pipes, approximately one meter in diameter and 10 meters in length, when fitted together, will act as an 120 meter floatation device from which the rest of the system will be suspended. Later this spring, this smaller prototype will be tested 2 miles off the Pacific coast.

After completion of the test, the first full-scale Ocean Cleanup System, measuring approximately 600 meters or about 0.4 miles in length, will launch from the San Francisco Bay to its final destination in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this summer. There, the first-ever system of its kind is projected to remove 50% of the plastic debris from the GPGP in 5 years. You read that right. Fifty percent of the plastic debris will be removed by The Ocean Cleanup System from the largest plastic garbage patch in the world in 5 years, if the models hold.

Alameda mayor Trish Herrera met with the Ocean Cleanup team yesterday as plans were finalized for the building to proceed. Once the go-ahead was given, assembly of the system began today.

Janette and Jeannette before crashing the assembly yard at The Ocean Cleanup, the old Alameda Naval Air Base, Alameda, CA., April 12, 2018. Photo by Janette Mauer.

Jeannette and Janette before crashing the assembly yard at The Ocean Cleanup, the old Alameda Naval Air Base, Alameda, CA., April 12, 2018. Photo by Janette Mauer.

Not knowing any of this was taking place, I set off this afternoon with Janette Mauer, buddy and sidekick extrordinaire, to see if we could locate the assembly yard for The Ocean Cleanup. We found the place, no problema, and excitedly crashed our way onto the assembly yard. An enormous pipe dangled from a crane as it was carefully maneuvered into position at the end of another pipe in the welding area. Offshore Operations Manager, Rick Martini, kindly asked us to leave for our own safety, after all, we had completely crashed into the middle of assembly! But he sweetly offered a tour shortly if we wanted to wait a bit. We did. Rick did not disappoint.

After donning reflective construction-worker vests and told no pictures or recordings were allowed, Rick and Procurement Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, Tara Bush, accompanied us around the operation. A giant blueprint hung from a cyclone fence nearby where Boyan Slat, CEO, founder and visionary of The Ocean Cleanup, went over details with an onsite engineer. Rick told us we had lucked out because Boyan was seldom there but stayed at the home base in the Netherlands most of the time. Rick then introduced us to Boyan.

I’ve got to say, it was a beautiful thing to shake Boyan Slat’s hand, tell him in person I had followed the project since his first TED Talk in 2012 and that it was an honor to meet him. He nodded, smiled and resumed work. He hears it all the time, I’m sure. Still, it was great to tell him in person, especially on such an important day in the life of the project.

Rick took us around the assembly operation. When the short tour was complete, I mused about what incredible feats could be achieved to save the oceans, to save the environment, to save our entire planet if we just put our minds to it. “Yes,” Rick responded, “if we had enough resources, we could.”

Janette and I were invited back next Thursday when the test system will be placed in the water at Seaplane Lagoon. Rick said we could come provided we brought chocolate chip cookies. My only question, how many dozen would you like, Rick? We’ll be there!

If you’d like to contribute financially to this ocean-saving and historic project, or if you’d like to learn more about it, please check out The Ocean Cleanup website.

Stay tuned for updates as this important endeavor unfolds and comes closer to realization!

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the test boom will measure 600m and the final system will measure 2400 meters. 


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