It will be hard work. It will be messy. It won’t be free. And it will be the trip of a lifetime. The Ocean Cleanup is preparing for its fourth and fifth expeditions to Bermuda for research to support its project to clean up the five gyres, the floating masses of trash that are choking the oceans.
The Delft-based nonprofit is the brainchild of Boyan Slat, who was just sixteen when he began studying the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans for a high school project. The five gyres are concentrations of plastic and garbage, many miles across, brought together by the currents in each of the major oceans. The garbage, which has broken down into nanoparticles, damages marine ecosystems by literally choking off life through its presence in the food chain.
The passive cleanup technology developed by The Ocean Cleanup uses floating arms or barriers that turn in the water currents, carrying trash to an extraction platform which is emptied regularly. A feasibility study shows that one such floating array can be expected to clean up half the garbage in the North Pacific patch in ten years. It also shows that the plastic can be used to produce oil at a lower cost and with a smaller carbon footprint than needed for fossil fuel extraction. There are many other uses for this plastic, which can be recycled for commercial use.
Those thinking of signing up for the trip can get some idea of what to expect from Winston Godwin’s blog on Expedition #3: “The boat has been scrubbed down and everyone has sadly begun making their way back home to their respective countries with memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime….Coming into this journey I had no idea the extent or magnitude of the plastics issue at hand. Large plastics, while their are obvious and fairly easy to extract are only part of the problem. The other 90% of the iceberg so to speak are the tiny bits of micro-plastics that have been broken down by the sun, ocean, and marine organisms. These tiny pieces cannot simply be picked out or filtered. They stay in the ocean column for long periods of time and are even ingested by various sea birds and marine animals. The hope is that our hard work over the past week will provide a better understanding of the issue as well as contribute to possible solutions to the problem at hand.”