Innovations to Clean Up the Ocean


Bigger than the United States. That’s the expanse of ocean today where millions of disposed plastic products have accumulated. Fortunately, a growing number of initiatives are being developed to reduce this “8th continent” threatening the marine ecosystem.


In the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, sailors and researchers have observed a phenomenon decidedly worrying for marine biodiversity: 3.5 million km2 of ocean invaded by trash, 80-90% of which is plastic waste.

Dubbed the 8th continent, this garbage patch has grown over the years, fed by rivers from the land and amassed by ocean currents, to the point that scientists fear it could directly impact our food chain. Because those plastics are made of toxic materials that are then ingested by marine animals, and we don’t yet know what the consequences are on living creatures, particularly people.

Emergency action now needs to be taken against marine pollution and it is time now to react and find solutions.

Emergency action now needs to be taken against marine pollution and it is time now to react and find solutions. Economists are producing alarming assessments as well. “The current system by which we produce, use and dispose of plastics has major drawbacks. Plastic packaging material worth $80 billion-$120 billion is lost each year. Aside from the financial cost, by 2050, if things go on like this, oceans will contain more plastics than fish,” warns a study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, the results of which were unveiled at the latest World Economic Forum in Davos.



Giant nets to trap trash

Happily, this alarm has been heard by inventive, committed citizens, starting with Boyan Slat, a young Dutchman who launched The Ocean Cleanup. His idea is quite simple: to lay out nets in a “V” in maritime zones with the highest concentrations of garbage and to use the natural sea currents to collect them at the tip of the V. A way to store plastics floating on or near the surface before collecting them for recycling.

Deemed viable by a report published in 2014, this ingenious invention is now being tested in the North Sea, off the coast of the Netherlands, with a 100-meter (328-foot) net. This experiment is to be reproduced off Tsushima Island in the Japanese archipelago, only this time with a 2,000-meter (6,562-foot) net. If the results of the second test are conclusive, this system looks set to clean up half of the Pacific Ocean in the space of 10 years.


Floating vacuum trash cans

Another hope for the long-term future of marine biodiversity is the Seabin Project, which Australians Peter Ceglinski and Andrew Turton spent four years developing. The two ocean-lovers have now perfected a new type of trash can that sucks up not only floating garbage, but also chemical pollutants like hydrocarbons.

How does it work? In practical terms, the bins are placed on the water and hooked up to a water pump that sucks up the waste. After the water is filtered, it is discharged back into the sea. Meanwhile the pollutants are captured in natural fiber bags. The only maintenance consists of regularly emptying the cans.

As a complement to the Ocean Cleanup, it works best on relatively calm bodies of water. It is thus best-suited to areas with high traffic levels like ports, navigable waterways and lakes.

The concept has already found takers. Initially tested at the Port of Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, it will soon be launched in France, at the Port of La Grande Motte.


Renewable wheels

For ports and riverbanks, a rival solution is also garnering attention. In Baltimore, the inventor John Kellett has built a floating platform, the Water Wheel. Installed at the mouth of the Jones Falls River, the solar- and water-powered wheel activates a conveyor belt that collects up to 20 tons of plastic daily.

But despite all of the hopes inspired by these flexible, adjustable innovations, the fundamental problem still needs to be addressed: waste is generated by human activities, thus, it is our responsibility to prevent ocean pollution.

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