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Plastic accumulates in 5 ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (1 below), located between Hawaii and California. 

If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

Ocean garbage patches are vast and dispersed

Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world: the subtropical gyres, also known as the world’s "ocean garbage patches". Once in these patches, the plastic will not go away by itself. The challenge of cleaning up the gyres is that the plastic pollution spreads across millions of square km and travels in all directions. Covering this area using vessels and nets would take thousands of years and cost billions of dollars to complete. 

Aerial Mapping - Finding the scale of the problem

Between September 26 and October 7 2016, The Ocean Cleanup conducted a series of flights across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: the Aerial Expedition. The objective of the mission was to accurately quantify the ocean’s biggest and most harmful debris, discarded fishing gear called ghost nets. Determining the amount of this large debris was the final stage of mapping the ocean plastic problem.

Surprisingly, This was the first-ever aerial survey of an ocean garbage patch.

With a flight crew of 10 researchers, 3 sensor technicians and 7 navigation personnel, The Ocean Cleanup’s Aerial Expedition used a combination of experienced human observers and advanced sensors to count the debris. The C-130 Hercules aircraft, named Ocean Force One, flew at a low speed (140 knots) and low altitude (400m) while mapping the area. Advanced sensors helped convert the count from the visual survey to a weight estimate by registering the size of the objects detected.

Ariel Mapping - Finding the scale of the problem

A selection of large objects observed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during the Aerial Expedition

Results of the Survey

The results were alarming: around 80 million kg of floating plastic debris of various size and shape, principally made of Polyethylene and Polypropylene, accumulated in an area 3 times the size of continental France.

Concentrations of microplastics, representing the majority of 

the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces inside the GPGP, have been increasing exponentially since the 1970s when researchers began observing quantities of tar and plastic floating in the North Pacific Ocean to more recent and consistent observations in the 2000s and 2010s. They also found that 92 % of the mass is still the be found in the larger objects (>5mm).

Development and Testing

A new ocean cleanup prototype is being deployed and tested on the North Sea in 2018. It is one of the last steps as they prepare to launch the first cleanup system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this summer. 

As with all new projects, the development process takes time and things don't always go as planned.

Unscheduled Learning Opportunities

The first of such prototypes, back in 2016, quickly led to what the team euphemistically refer to as an Unscheduled Learning Opportunity. North Sea Prototype 1 (NSP1) rapidly taught them that a barrier design inspired by conventional oil containment booms won't be able to last at sea for a very long time. They initiated the NSP2 in September 2017. They deployed two 12-meter-long test sections, one of which was fitted with a 'dovetail connection', while the other tested both a zipper and a shackle-based design. 

Further improvements are in progress.

Boyan Slat CEO (27th July 1994)

Boyan is a Dutch inventor and entrepreneur who creates technologies to solve societal problems. He is the founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, which develops advanced systems to rid world’s oceans of plastic.

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Instead of going after the plastic, Boyan devised a system though which, driven by the ocean currents, the plastic would concentrate itself, reducing the theoretical cleanup time from millennia to mere years. In February 2013 he dropped out of his Aerospace Engineering study at TU Delft to start The Ocean Cleanup. The first cleanup prototype was deployed in June 2016, and The Ocean Cleanup now prepares to launch the first full-scale operational system into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by mid-2018.

Boyan Slat is the youngest-ever recipient of the UN’s highest environmental accolade; Champion of the Earth

In 2015, HM King Harald of Norway awarded Boyan the maritime industry's Young Entrepreneur Award. Foreign Policy included Boyan in their 2015 list of preeminent thought leaders, Forbes included him in their 30 under 30 edition in 2016. In 2017, Elsevier named him Dutchman of the Year, Reader’s Digest chose him as the European of the Year and he was given the Thor Heyerdahl Award for maritime innovation. Boyan is a member of the Thiel Fellowship.

The Ocean Cleanup has been chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2015.

The Ocean Cleanup Team

Further Information

Further Information

All information and pictures were taken from the official website