In the summer of 2011, Boyan Slat was diving in Greece, when he noticed that he was coming upon more plastic bags than actual fish.
He was then asked to write a school science paper which he then used that time to investigate the plastic pollution problem and why people were claiming it nearly impossible to clean up. His work then eventually lead him to the idea of using the ocean’s currents to let them clean themselves.
He first vocalized the concept in 2012 using a TEDx Talk, which rapidly went viral, being watched millions of times. Crowd funded and crowd sourced team of voluntary scientists and engineers then stepped up to help work out the idea.
Trash has been found accumulating in five ocean garbage patches with the largest one being between Hawaii and California. These patches accumulate over five trillion pieces of plastic which currently litter the ocean.
The project being called The Ocean Cleanup plans on launching its start in 2020 by using solid screens which catch the floating plastic, but allows sea life to pass underneath the barrier with the current. It has a V-shaped array which diverts the plastic towards a central collection point which then extract and buffer the debris before it is shipped to land.
By recycling the debris and selling the semi-finished product, the operation will eventually be self-sustainable. The Ocean Cleanup fully relies on the natural ocean currents to catch and concentrate the debris, and requires no external energy source. TIME Magazine said “One of the world’s best inventions of 2015.”
Now while Slat was able to raise more than two million dollars for the device that would extract plastic from the ocean, some critics are speaking out about how the high-cost initiative might be misdirected.
Scientists like physical oceanographer Kim Martini and biological oceanographer Miriam Goldstein still aren’t convinced that the structure can overcome the technical challenges. After the feasibility study was published in 2014, Martini and Goldstein published their own technical review on DeepSeaNews.com. They say their concerns have remained largely unaddressed.
Martini says Slat’s response was limited to a statement he made on a discussion panel. While he said he was “very happy they have read it”, and that they made valid points, Martini doesn’t think Slat has made a sufficient response to his concerns.
“We continue to have serious reservations about the success of the project due to the quality of the responses [to our review] that we could find, and [to] the Ocean Cleanup’s substantive misinterpretation of oceanography, ecology, engineering and marine debris distribution, all of which are necessary for this project to succeed,” Martini wrote in an email.
“The thing is, what we’re trying to achieve has never been done before,” Slat says. It’s 100 times bigger than anything that’s ever been deployed in the ocean. It’s 50% deeper, and ten times more remote than the world’s most remote oil rig. So obviously there [are] technical challenges.”
While there are some doubters, the plan has been set to launch this year to help cleanup 40% of ocean-plastics, slowly making an improvement in our marine animal fatalities and enable numerous marine species to survive.