The Great Pacific Garbage Patch cleanup to begin 2018!

Update, January 1, 2018: Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean CleanUp tweeted today:

“If things continue to go well, 2018 will be the year the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will finally commence. Construction of the system now well under way, assembly to start next month, full-scale testing is a few months away. Launch to GPDP mid-2018. More details soon.”

Looking good! Stay posted!

May 11, 2017:

In well-worn tennis shoes, a thick thatch of bangs brushing his eyes, Boyan Slat, founder and boy genius of The Ocean CleanUp, made an announcement May 11 that could change the health of our oceans forever.

The OceanCleanUp Founder and CEO, Boyan Slat. Photo by Eline Spek.

“Our promise was to start a cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by the end of 2020. Instead,” Slat told the packed auditorium in the Netherlands, “we will be launching our first actual cleanup system to be deployed in the Patch within the next 12 months.” His exciting news didn’t end there.

Earlier research had predicted The Ocean CleanUp system could rid The Patch of 42% of its plastic over a period of 10 years. But a design change essential for the durability, efficiency and cost blew the old model out of the water. The new model is anticipated to remove 50% of the plastic in a mere five years. If projections are correct, the whole Patch could be free of plastic by 2050.

“Our core principle has always been that we work with nature, that we use the natural ocean currents to our advantage,” he said. “Why go after the plastic if the plastic can come to you?”

“Now we’re taking the idea one step further. To catch the plastic, act like plastic.”

Using a sweeping multimedia presentation, Slat described the oceanographic and engineering challenges the project encountered which lead them to design their system to “act like plastic.” With their new mantra in mind, the redesigns began.

The first models had required the cleanup system to be anchored to the seabed- a difficult and costly enterprise that made the system vulnerable to devastating storms. But plastic isn’t anchored anywhere, so the system needed to act more like plastic, Slat said.

Prototype of The Ocean Clean Up deployed to the North Sea, 2016. Photo courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup.

Using the knowledge that currents at the surface of the ocean move faster than the currents deeper down, the cleanup system “anchor” only needed to be where the currents flowed more slowly than the plastic on the surface. With characteristic simplicity and elegance of earlier models, the system was revamped to have “anchors” no more than weighted ropes dangling down into the deeper, slower-moving currents.

When computer models were run to test the efficacy of the new design, Slat and his team discovered a freely floating and rotating collection system drifting along with the plastic, acted as a veritable “plastic magnet.” The new system could pick up five to 10 times more plastic than the stationary, anchored model. For details on the entire system design visit The Ocean CleanUp technology page.

Not only was the new system better at corralling  plastic, it was more durable and cheaper to manufacture.

The original price tag for a single 100 km system would run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the new drifting model lent itself to the idea of a huge fleet of smaller units. A fleet would cover a greater area and allow the systems to be deployed gradually as funding becomes available.

The first cleanup systems are currently in production in California and will launch from the San Francisco Bay when completed.

“Don’t we all want a future that is better than the present?” Slat asked. The presentation ended with a long, roar of cheers from his supporters.

It looks like Slat and The Ocean Cleanup team are on the brink of making environmental history.

Explora Science News will continue to cover this exciting enterprise as it moves closer to launch.

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