Ocean Cleanup project completes Great Pacific Garbage Patch research expedition

The Ocean Cleanup project's "Mega Expedition" is said to have been the largest ocean research expedition in history

In May, the Ocean Cleanup project announced that its first deployment would be delivered in the Korea Strait next year. That will pave the way for its ultimate goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With that in mind, a research expedition at the Garbage Patch has just been completed.

The concept for the Ocean Cleanup project was conceived by Dutch entrepreneur and inventor Boyan Slat and announced in 2013. Slat realized that the movement of the oceans could be harnessed in order to direct floating plastic waste into the arms of a static collection system.

After a positive feasibility study, a successful crowdfunding campaign and being named a category winner in the 2015 Designs of the Year awards, the Ocean Cleanup project recently set out to gather research in the Pacific. A fleet of 30 vessels, including a 171 ft (52 m) mothership, took part in the month-long voyage, or Mega Expedition, the primary goal of which was to determine just how much plastic is actually floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

According to the Ocean Cleanup project, this was the largest ocean research expedition in history. A series of measurement techniques were employed to sample the concentration of plastic in the area, including trawls and aerial surveys. It is also said to have been the first time that large pieces of plastic, such as ghost nets and Japanese tsunami debris, have been quantified.

Slat explains that it is not just floating bits of plastic that are a problem, but what happens to those pieces over the long term. "The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up," he says. "It really is a ticking time bomb."

The research samples collected during the expedition during have to be analyzed, but preliminary findings indicate a "higher-than-expected volume" of plastic objects found at the Pacific site.

The cleanup proper of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is expected to begin in 2020.

The video below provides an introduction to the expedition.

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