Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Garbage Patch Clean Up Begins

A sixteen year old Dutch student faced a familiar problem--what to do for his high school science project.   Except this teenager got real serious, abandon his aerospace engineering program, and came up with a genius idea:  an ocean sweeper that would clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the 87,000 ton vortex of plastic debris and discarded fishing gear swirling around in mid-ocean between Hawaii and California.  Boyant Slat (not kidding) had only one problem, all the companies he presented his idea for a floating clean up device were ignored.  One company even bothered to respond, telling him it was a terrible idea.  The situation changed for the better quickly, after he made a hugely popular TED talk. [photo] Funding soon followed from entrepreneurs, and just plain folks.  His vision was to let ocean energy do most of the work by funneling plastic debris into v-shaped screens that filter out the junk.

Trials of his design took place in the North Sea with "Boomie McBoom Face", the boom that supports the filter screens.  The project engineers learned as the project continued, devising new sea anchor designs that allows the entire contraption to drift more slowly than the surrounding surface currents.  The trials proved successful enough that the Ocean Clean Up Foundation with $30 million in funding plans to deploy a full scale version in the Pacific with the intent of starting the enormous task of removing the detritus of man's exploitation of the planet's resources.  The machine will be the first attempt to reduce the size of the garbage patch since it was discovered in 1997.  According to the Foundation about 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans each year.  Single use plastic takes about 450 years to breakdown into microplastic particles which themselves pose a lethal threat to sea creatures.  An estimated 100,000 dophins, whales, and seals die each year from entanglement or ingestion; not to the mention uncounted sea birds, turtles and fish.

The machine will consist of 40ft, air-filled pipes made of, yes, plastic, that will float in an arc a mile long.  The plan is deploy 60 of these starting in July from San Francisco to collect plastic debris and discarded fishing gear that makes up half of the trash.  Boats will go out every six to eight week to haul away what the sweepers have collected.  Fish will be able to escape the screens by swimming underneath them.  Mr. Slat is an inspiration to any young person willing to think outside the box in which she or he finds themselves to tackle the Earth's health emergency with creative, innovative ideas.  "Why can't we clean this up?"   Indeed, Mr. Slat, indeed.