Believe it or not, it's not all bad news out there - according to an organization dedicated to cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a self-contained system that uses the ocean's currents to passively collect plastic debris has finally begun working.
According to Boyan Slat, who created the Ocean Cleanup project, the system is in place and working for the first time since the system broke down late last year.
"Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics," the Dutch inventor tweeted Wednesday.
The ocean cleanup system is a U-shaped barrier that uses a 10-foot net that hangs below the water to collect plastic as it floats with the current. Fish and other animals are able to avoid the net by swimming underneath, allowing the system to passively collect tons of plastic and debris floating in the 600,000 square-mile garbage patch.
"After one year of testing, we have succeeded in developing a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic, thereby confirming the most important principle behind the cleanup concept that was first presented by Boyan Slat at a TEDx conference in October 2012," the organization wrote on its website.
The system previously failed back in December after a portion of the cleanup device broke off, forcing the organization to tow the entire contraption back to Hawaii in order to fix it. The new 2000-foot prototype also includes a parachute anchor which allows the collector to move slower through the water and increased the size of the cork line to prevent any plastic from washing over and escaping the collector.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, first discovered in the early 1990s, is made up of trash that's become trapped by rotating ocean currents known as 'gyres,' which pull the debris from Pacific Rim nations into one location. The patch isn't some kind of "island of trash," but is made up of smaller, free-form plastic particles ranging in size, with some larger pieces of marine debris. Scientists estimate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch includes about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighs up to 88,000 tons. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are five gyres in the world, each of which pull the floating debris and plastic into patches.
“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights,” said Boyan Slat.
“Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point. Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team’s commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development.”
The organization says they plan on building a series of these devices and deploy them over the next few years with the hopes of reducing the garbage patch by half every five years.
Photo: The Ocean Cleanup