Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

2000 metre pollution floating barrierResearchers are launching tests aimed at setting up a huge floating barrier off the Japanese coast, a project that could eventually help remove some of the 5.25 trillion pieces of rubbish polluting the world’s oceans.

If the study is a success, the southern island of Tsushima could be the venue for a pilot scheme that would pluck tonnes of plastic waste from the sea – all without harming marine life. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation wants to install a moored platform and floating boom which would span 2 000 metres, off the island next year if the tests prove promising.

The Ocean Cleanup Foundation develops technologies to extract, prevent, and intercept plastic pollution. The Ocean Cleanup’s goal is to fuel the world’s fight against oceanic plastic pollution by initiating the largest cleanup in history.

The Ocean Cleanup successfully concluded the Mega Expedition with the arrival of the first group of vessels including the fleet’s 52 metre mothership in the port of San Francisco. Using a series of measurement techniques, including trawls and aerial surveys, the fleet of close to 30 vessels sampled the concentration of plastic during its month-long voyage through the 100km long system between Hawaii and California – the location of the so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, a major gyre of marine debris. This is in preparation for the large-scale cleanup of the area, set to begin in 2020.

Primary goal

The Mega Expedition’s primary goal is to accurately determine how much plastic is floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by executing the largest ocean research expedition in history. This is also the first time large pieces of plastic, such as ghost nets and Japanese tsunami debris, have been quantified.

“I’ve studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr. Julia Reisser, Lead Oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup. “With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic.”

Although the samples collected during the expedition still have to be analysed, preliminary findings indicate a higher than- expected volume of large plastic objects floating in the ocean.

Sea pollutionThis underscores the urgency of The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to clean it up, according to CEO and founder Boyan Slat: “The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up. It really is a ticking time bomb.”

During a press conference, Boyan announced that The Ocean Cleanup was able to conduct the Mega Expedition thanks to major financial contributions from entrepreneur-philanthropists, including Salesforce Chairman, CEO and founder Marc Benioff: “Protecting the oceans should be a priority for all of Earth’s citizens. The Ocean Cleanup is taking an innovative approach to preserving one of our most critical resources and raising the visibility of this global challenge.”

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