By Ryan Hackland
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, in no uncertain terms, a sea monster. It is huge, deadly, and most of it is hidden beneath the waves. A result of trash getting swept away from beaches and out of harbors due to tides and offshore currents, the garbage patch covers an area the size of Texas and growing. In a world filled with more skeptics than environmentalists is it even possible to clean up a mess that large? Dutch Engineering student, Boyan Slat, seems to think so.
His invention, The Clean Up Array, was revealed to the public in 2012 at a Tedx conference. Its function is simple in that it allows the oceans to clean themselves. The Pacific Garbage Patch slowly rotates; trapped in an oceanographic location know as the North Pacific Gyre. Gyres are slow moving marine vortexes that normally churn up essential nutrients from the seabed.
Since the invention of plastic and Tupperware containers, these nutrients have become intermixed with plastics and micro plastics that absorb harmful chemicals like PCBs and DDTs.
These are chemicals known to cause serious health risks including: damage to the immune system and reproductive organs, birth defects, tremors, convulsions, neurological and cognitive problems, hormone disruption, and cancer. Fish that mistake them for nutrients are ingesting these chemicals. Since we are at the top of the food chain and PCBs and DDTs become more concentrated as they move up the food chain, we have every reason to be concerned. That’s where Slat’s plan comes in.
Manta Ray shaped platforms with booms similar to the ones used to isolate marine oil slicks will be positioned around the gyre. The gyres swirling motion sends plastics toward the platforms. The platforms would then collect and process them while, at the same time, separating micro plastics from zooplankton. As a result Slat hopes to remove harmful inorganic plastic waste and the toxic chemical byproducts it absorbs. In addition, marine mammals that migrate through the North Pacific Gyre would be able to swim under the booms to avoid becoming caught.
To reduce labor costs and a prevent increasing the size of our carbon footprint; Slat intends to have the platforms remain in a fixed position with anchor lines descending to a depth of 4,000 meters. The platforms will run on solar wind and wave power to be fully self sufficient in the most extreme conditions.
Charles Moore, a researcher who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, predicted that it would take a whopping 79,000 years to undo this environmental catastrophe. If successful, Slat’s invention would clear the ocean plastics in as little as five years. In the two years following Slats presentation, he now owns a non-profit organization called Ocean Cleanup with 100 employees serving under him. Since his Tedx speech, Ocean Cleanup has received over $100,000 in funds towards implementing his plan. Unfortunately, this amounts to only 6% of his potential goal of $2,000,000. So if you want to soak up the sun or go diving this summer and are sick of the buildup of trash, go onto the Ocean Cleanup website and help Slat reach his goal.