Pa­cific garbage cleanup be­gins

Float­ing bar­rier aims to col­lect five tonnes of plastics each month

The Guardian Weekly - - International News | Environment - Han­nah Sum­mers

A team of sci­en­tists and engi­neers last Satur­day be­gan an am­bi­tious cleanup of plastics in the Pa­cific Ocean tar­get­ing a stretch of wa­ter known as the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch.

A 600-me­tre-long float­ing bar­rier was launched off the coast of San Fran­cisco and, pow­ered by cur­rents, waves and wind, will aim to col­lect five tonnes of plas­tic de­bris each month.

The marine ap­pa­ra­tus known as Sys­tem 001 is the brain­child of the Dutch in­ven­tor Boyan Slat, who founded The Ocean Cleanup at age 18 in 2013. Along with 70 staff he has spent the last five years test­ing 273 mod­els and six dif­fer­ent pro­to­types as part of the $20m Nether­lands-based project be­fore ar­riv­ing at the lat­est de­sign – nick­named “Wilson” in ref­er­ence to the fa­mous vol­ley­ball from the film Cast­away.

The struc­ture com­prises 60 ad­join­ing units form­ing a giant C-shaped tube at­tached to a three-me­tre deep im­pen­e­tra­ble skirt which will col­lect plas­tic waste of 1cm di­am­e­ter and larger, as well as dis­carded fish­ing nets, as it skims the ocean’s sur­face. The cleanup sys­tem is be­ing towed out into the Pa­cific Ocean where it will un­dergo two weeks of op­er­a­tional test­ing at around 460km off­shore be­fore start­ing its mis­sion. The sys­tem is equipped with lo­ca­tion­broad­cast­ing technology in or­der to stop ves­sels from run­ning into it.

The team ex­pects to re­move the ac­cu­mu­lated de­bris ev­ery six weeks us­ing a sup­port ves­sel be­fore trans­fer­ring the plas­tic waste to the Nether­lands to be re­cy­cled.

Oceanog­ra­pher Lau­rent Le­bre­ton ex­plained: “Mov­ing with wind and cur­rents in the same way plas­tic does, the bar­rier should self-ad­just once de­ployed. It will trap large de­bris be­fore it can break down into harm­ful mi­croplas­tics. Some 92% of plas­tic in the re­gion is made up of pieces larger than 5mm so that is our fo­cus.”

A re­cent study found that 1.8tn pieces of plas­tic weigh­ing 80,000 met­ric tonnes are cur­rently afloat in the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch – a stretch of ocean run­ning be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii cov­er­ing 1.6m sq km.

It is the largest and dirt­i­est of five ocean cir­cu­la­tory sys­tems known as gyres, but re­searchers claim the project could re­move 50% of plastics in the area within five years.

How­ever, pre­dic­tions that the Ocean Cleanup could re­move 90% of sur­face plastics glob­ally by 2040 us­ing a full fleet of sys­tems have been met with scep­ti­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. Crit­ics of the project also fear the sys­tem could pose a threat to marine life.

Rick Stafford, pro­fes­sor of marine bi­ol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion at Bournemouth Uni­ver­sity, said: “It could re­move a lot of large plastics from the ocean, which is pos­i­tive as long as it will not harm sea life.”

The bar­rier was de­signed not to en­tan­gle fish and sea mam­mals that can swim un­der the skirt, but Stafford said there would un­doubt­edly be a de­gree of by­catch.

“Fish such as tuna could get caught up in the de­bris. Or if tur­tles get pushed up into the skirt there is a chance they will end up eat­ing the plas­tic. My big­gest concern is that pro­vid­ing a po­ten­tial tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tion could make us feel like we have dealt with the plastics prob­lem – whereas in re­al­ity we need strong pol­icy and leg­is­la­tion to ban dis­pos­able plastics.”

Sue Kin­sey, pol­lu­tion pol­icy of­fi­cer at the Marine Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, agreed.

“While we un­der­stand the de­sire and pas­sion be­hind this project, we feel more time and en­ergy must be in­vested to stop lit­ter en­ter­ing our oceans in the first place. Ad­di­tion­ally we have se­ri­ous con­cerns that wildlife will be af­fected, es­pe­cially the smaller float­ing plank­ton that many crea­tures de­pend on for food and those or­gan­isms that float pas­sively.

She added: “Lit­ter is dis­trib­uted through­out the wa­ter col­umn and this de­vice ce will only pick up the first few ew me­tres of ma­te­rial and miss much of the mi­cro­scopic waste aste that is im­pos­si­ble to col­lect ol­lect and re­cy­cle.”

A spokesper­son kesper­son for Green­peace eace said: “Ex­plor­ing ing new ideas and d tech­nolo­gies to clean up ocean pol­lu­tion ol­lu­tion is laud­able. But preven­tion is far r bet­ter than cure and in or­der to tackle the e pol­lu­tion cri­sis cor­po­ra­tions po­ra­tions must stop op pro­duc­ing so o much plas­tic.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.