MATTHEW SHEA­HAN

WHATEVER THE TRUTH ABOUT RUB­BISH IN RIO, THE OLYMPICS HIGH­LIGHTED THE PROB­LEM OF MAR­ITIME POL­LU­TION. NOW A DUTCH FOUN­DA­TION HAS A SO­LU­TION

Yachting World - - Comment -

All talk of de­bris-strewn cour­ses stopped the minute the com­pe­ti­tion started in Rio. As is so of­ten the case, the build-up to any Olympics brings out the worst neg­a­tive press, from claims that the con­crete wasn’t dry to calls to move the venue. This time it was the wa­ter qual­ity that made the big­gest head­lines.

But like all Games, when the flag dropped, the com­pe­ti­tion started.

It is un­likely that we will know for some time (if at all) whether the risk of rub­bish strewn across race­courses was a re­al­ity that com­pro­mised the rac­ing.

But there was lit­tle said by those most af­fected – the com­peti­tors. Olympic-level mind games meant they were un­likely to speak out be­fore the event. Like ig­nor­ing the strong winds and break­ing waves out­side the har­bour at a Na­tional cham­pi­onships, re­main­ing tight-lipped not only fo­cuses the mind, it makes you looked re­laxed and con­fi­dent, which in turn helps to spook your op­po­nents.

In Qing­dao in 2008, the course was so thick with weed you felt you could al­most walk across the bay. Yet each day, largely thanks to the ef­forts of hun­dreds of lo­cal fish­er­men with pitch­forks each day, the show went on as planned. Few peo­ple men­tioned it other than jour­nal­ists.

In Rio, boats did seem to snag items in the wa­ter on a few oc­ca­sions. Whether this was de­bris or weed is dif­fi­cult to know. But the truth is that all of us who race have been tripped up at home or abroad by some­thing at some time, be it an­i­mal, min­eral or veg­etable.

Rais­ing aware­ness

What Rio has done, how­ever, is to draw fur­ther at­ten­tion to the plight of our oceans and the need to clean them up. The Amer­ica’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race are among the ma­jor sail­ing events which reg­u­larly hold beach clean days to raise aware­ness and do some­thing prac­ti­cal too.

But away from the hot­bed of com­pe­ti­tion, a de­vice has been launched that is aimed at tak­ing off­shore lit­ter col­lec­tion to a dif­fer­ent level.

A Dutch foun­da­tion called Ocean Cleanup has re­cently un­veiled what it claims to be the first ocean clean-up sys­tem. The de­vice is a gi­ant float­ing bar­rier an­chored to the sea bed. Un­der­neath the float­ing tubes on the sur­face hangs a solid yet flex­i­ble screen to help catch any de­bris float­ing just un­der the sur­face.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science and nor is it. But it’s the scale of the project that is sur­pris­ing.

‘A sin­gle 100km in­stal­la­tion can catch al­most half the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch in ten years,’ the foun­da­tion claims on its web­site. All very im­pres­sive, al­though I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the bar­rier and have to sail around its ends. It’s tricky enough al­ter­ing course around some of the large fish­ing nets that ‘don’t ex­ist’ off the west coast of Ire­land.

“A 100KM RUB­BISH BAR­RIER SOUNDS IM­PRES­SIVE BUT I WOULDN’T WANT TO BE ON THE WRONG SIDE AND HAVE TO SAIL AROUND ITS ENDS”

North Sea pro­to­type

Af­ter a fea­si­bil­ity study, Ocean Cleanup tested a scale model in 2015. Now it has launched an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­to­type in the North Sea. At 100m long, this bar­rier is con­sid­er­ably shorter than the fi­nal prod­uct and doesn’t even seek to clean up the area where it is be­ing de­ployed, 23km off the coast of the Nether­lands. In­stead the pro­to­type will be used to mea­sure the loads in­volved in the struc­ture in or­der that the full-scale bar­rier can be en­gi­neered to with­stand the rigours of the weather and en­dure a ten-year ocean de­ploy­ment.

Once the struc­ture has been tested in the North Sea, the plan is to de­ploy a full-scale ver­sion in the Pa­cific in 2017 and start the clean-up in 2020 in the North Pa­cific, which the team high­lights as the lo­ca­tion of one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of plas­tic pol­lu­tion.

So, if you’re cruis­ing the North Sea this summer and come across a long sausage-like struc­ture at sea, make a men­tal note. If you stum­ble across it in the Pa­cific in a few years, you may well be mak­ing a course al­ter­ation that could re­quire sev­eral days. But at least it will be in a good cause. Who knows, it may even help avoid more neg­a­tive head­lines be­fore the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

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