A Brilliant 20-Year-Old Built This Spacecraft-Looking Machine to Clean Up Earth’s Oceans

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Boyan Slat is not a typical 20-year-old. After the Dutch native went on a diving trip in Greece where he saw more plastic than marine life, he resolved to do something about it.

In 2016, The Ocean Cleanup, the company Slat founded, will be deploying the world’s first ever system to passively clean the Earth’s oceans on a large scale. Rather than actively collecting garbage, the unique approach uses the ocean’s natural currents to steer the debris, where it can then be collected into solid floating barriers. The system is superior to nets, which also ensnare wildlife. If all goes as planned, the collected garbage can be recycled, with costs going to offset the cleanup.

Slat’s ocean cleaning system will span 2,000 meters and will be the largest floating structure humans have ever deployed into the world’s oceans. Currently, it is anticipated that the system will be launched off the coast ofJapan’s Tsushima island next year.

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“Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time,” Slat said in a press release.The Great Pacific Garbage patch is not merely a floating landfill. The “patch” actually comprises two masses of swirling disassociated garbage, one between Hawaii and California and the other closer to Japan. Plastic and other nonbiodegradable materials thrown into the world’s oceans are swept there and to other patches by ocean currents. Over time, it collects, posing an ever-growing danger to marine life.

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The ocean can never fully dissolve the garbage, and the danger comes when materials are broken down into small particles known as “microplastics.” Birds, fish and other animals consume the junk, which, over time, will collect in their bodies and kill them. “Over 100,000 mammals and over a million seabirds die each year,” for this reason, Slat told an audience in New York City in June 2014.

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And now, after a feasibility study has determined that Slat’s invention—a 2000-meter boom called the Coastal Pilot that shepherds debris into a central receptacle—is viable, Slat announced at the Seoul Digital Forum on May 20 that his company would deploy their cleanup system in 2016 off the coast of Tsushima, an island located between Japan and South Korea. Within five years, they plan to launch other systems, including one aiming to clean up roughly 70,000 tons of netting, plastic bags, bottle caps, and Styrofoam snarled in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

How does it work?

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Slat’s device uses the ocean’s natural currents to power the cleanup. Trash collects in gyres, enormous circular currents where massive garbage islands cluster. It’s in one of these that Coastal Pilot will be put to the test. The boom is a platform with floating barriers that is anchored to the ocean floor with relatively thin cables. The ocean does the rest of the work. Wind and surface currents push the debris toward the boom, and the trash ebbs and flows its way toward the center collection platform. The main ocean currents pass beneath. Fish and mammals can swim underneath the floating boom (which only extends 2 to 3 meters below the surface), so marine life is unlikely to become entangled as by-catch—a huge problem for any ocean device that uses nets.

 

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Fabio Evagelista is a Brazilian writer.

Crossed Paths is the first book of the Myra-Hati trilogy, an epic adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, for the lovers of sci-fi / fantasy genre. This is the author’s first work published in America.

Sources 1, 2

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