After several initial failures, a giant floating boom designed to collect trash from the ocean is finally working.
The Ocean Cleanup Project, created by a 25-year-old Dutch university dropout, has begun collecting items ranging in size from as large as commercial fishing nets to as small as 1 millimeter pieces of plastic from the area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located halfway between California and Hawaii.
“Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?” Boyan Slat tweeted.
The 600-meter-long free-floating boom has a tapered 3-meter-deep screen that acts like a coastline to trap the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that form the patch, while allowing marine life to swim under it.
An underwater parachute anchor was added to the boom after it failed to trap any trash in the sea last year. The anchor slowed down the boom to allow it to passively catch the trash while moving with the currents.
Using sensors and satellites, the boom communicates with scientists to let them know when it is time to send out a boat to pick up the collected trash for recycling.
The environmental nonprofit Ocean Conservancy estimates between 600,000 and 800,000 metric tons of fishing gear is abandoned or lost in the oceans every year. Another 8 million metric tons of plastic trash such as bottles, bags and toys flow annually into the ocean from beaches, rivers and creeks.
Slat said the next move will be to design a bigger, stronger boom that will be able to collect trash for a year or more before a ship is sent out to empty it.
“There’s a lot of work still ahead of us,” he said.