Protecting the Pacific

Protecting the Pacific

Making Waves Against Plastic Pollution

Andy Beth Miller | Feb 13, 2017

The Ocean:

We Can Unknowingly Take it for Granted

Learning to Coexist With Our Ocean

Living in Hawaiʻi, the presence of the ocean is palpable. Depending on your drive home you could catch a glimpse of the Pacific or stop and watch the sun set at the end of a work day. Weekends can be spent relaxing at the beach, barbecuing with friends or catching a few waves.

The beauty and power of the ocean is something we can unknowingly take for granted living in Hawai’i, but the awareness that we are living in the middle of the earthʻs largest ocean is something you’re easily reminded of when those tropical storms hit or you have to buy a plane ticket to travel, well, just about anywhere.

Unfortunately, around the world, the ocean has also become home to vast amounts of trash, with roughly 80 percent of marine litter coming from the land, the majority of it made from plastic. The plastic that pollutes the ocean has a big impact on our environment and our economy. Each year, thousands of sea birds and marine mammals are killed as a result of ingesting plastic or getting entangled in plastic. Hawaiian monk seals and honu (green sea turtles) are some of the species that are affected by plastic pollution.

Everything in nature is connected to human life and when we put our waters at risk, we put our own well-being at risk. It’s a vicious circle of pollution that comes back to haunt us.

Many people thought it was an “impossible” feat to solve the global issue of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Taking Action

Organizations around the world have been looking at this problem from all angles for years. The best solution is to ensure plastic never reach our oceans by recycling, and of course, never littering.

In fact, the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans is so pervasive that many have estimated it would take a millenia to come close to solving it. Yet, a 21 year-old named Boyn Slat from the Netherlands believes he has found a solution that could make a positive impact in a mangeable amount of time.

When he was in high school, Slat learned about the negative impact plastic pollution was having on the ocean. It was not only the devastation it was causing on plant life but also how much plastic was floating out in the world’s oceans.

Passionate about coming up with a solution, he began to talk about his idea for a system that could extract the plastic that is concentrated in open oceans as well as provide spin-off technologies that could be used to reduce new plastic from reaching the ocean by intercepting them at rivers. At the time, when he started to share his idea, many people thought it was an “impossible” feat to solve the global issue of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. But as he says, “Human history is made up of a list of things that couldn’t be done, and then were done.”

After being invited to give talks about his idea, Slat found a few investors but they all ended up not following through on their intial promise of investment. Then a video of Slat talking about his idea suddenly went viral on the internet and he got such a positive response that he began a kickstarter campaign raising $80,000 to begin research.

With the funding, he worked with a team of engineers, volunteers and sponsers to conduct open sea research to see if the idea could be a viable solution.

The Solution

The floating barrier they developed can survive in 95% of ocean conditions and is able to collect massive amounts of plastic while allowing marine life to still pass through. By conducting different tests, the team confirmed its viability as a real solution, answering many naysayers that said it was not possible.

With storm-resistent barriers moored to the seabed in a v-shape that concentrates the plastic towards the center for easier collection and central platforms that extract the concentrated plastic and store it for transport, the Ocean Cleanup Array is estimated to be roughly 7,900 times faster and 33 times cheaper than conventional methods. As the organization continues to do work exploring a new approach to cleaning up plastic from the world’s oceans, perhaps one of the most important things Slat’s idea has brought to light is that many things are thought to be impossible until someone simply goes out and does it.

To learn more about The Ocean Cleanup, visit their site