Cleaning up the Ocean Gyres!

Since first coming to know about the horrific reality of the 5 Ocean Gyres and the millions of tons plastic that float in our oceans, we've been mortified by the effects this phenomenon has on ocean life.

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The tiny bits of floating plastic in the gyres look like food to fish and birds and once consumed they often lead to the demise of these beautiful animals. Furthermore, the plastic contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro diphenyl trichloroethanes (DDTs) and other carcinogens which enter the food chain through the unfortunate animals that eat the tiny bits of plastic, and eventually humans also wind up consuming these harmful chemical accumulations too. 

In total there are five incredibly large patches of plastic in existence today. The largest, the North Pacific Gyre, is roughly twice the size of the United States! All of them are a problem because the plastic in them doesn’t break down and dissolve readily. It is expected that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow, these gyres are going to be around for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

So what to do?

A young entrepreneur, Boyan Slat, may have found a solution to the problem. He intends to develop an array of floating devices designed to clean up over 7 million tons of plastic bits suspended in the top layer of the gyres. To put that in perspective that’s the weight of 1,000 Eiffel Towers.

In a TED talk for TEDxDelft 2012, Slat detailed his plan. The array itself is to be made of manta-ray-shaped platforms connected in a zig-zagging pattern and affixed to the seabed. Ocean currents would then drive plastic debris toward the platforms, which would be powered by the sun and wave action. Long, floating booms — not nets — would be used to sift plastics from the water with very little bycatch. Slat found that zooplankton, microscopic animals important to the bottom of the food chain, can be removed safely from the water using a centrifuge.

Not only would his plan clean up the ocean, save the lives of aquatic animals and reduce the amount of pollutants from entering the food chain but it would also save industry millions per year. Marine vessels are damaged every year from the garbage floating in the ocean, countries lose money when tourists no longer want to visit their polluted beaches. And Slat also thinks that he can make millions of dollars from the plastic he collects, by recycling it.

Jean-Paul MoutonComment