Environment

Ocean Cleanup Project drags its fractured plastic-catching barrier in for repairs

Ocean Cleanup Project drags it...
Despite the latest setback, CEO Boyan Slat is adamant this is a speed hump rather than a road block
Despite the latest setback, CEO Boyan Slat is adamant this is a speed hump rather than a road block
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Diagram of The Ocean Cleanup Project's barrier, with the point of fracture highlighted in red
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Diagram of The Ocean Cleanup Project's barrier, with the point of fracture highlighted in red
The Ocean Cleanup Project’s system is a giant U-shaped barrier designed to sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect plastic waste
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The Ocean Cleanup Project’s system is a giant U-shaped barrier designed to sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect plastic waste
The Ocean Cleanup Project has its share of naysayers and outright critics
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The Ocean Cleanup Project has its share of naysayers and outright critics
It is now around two and a half months since the Ocean Cleanup Project installed its first trash-catching barrier in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and things are not going exactly to plan
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It is now around two and a half months since the Ocean Cleanup Project installed its first trash-catching barrier in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and things are not going exactly to plan
The Ocean Cleanup team has encountered some trouble getting the system up to the requisite speeds
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The Ocean Cleanup team has encountered some trouble getting the system up to the requisite speeds
The Ocean Cleanup's support vehicle
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The Ocean Cleanup's support vehicle
Despite the latest setback, CEO Boyan Slat is adamant this is a speed hump rather than a road block
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Despite the latest setback, CEO Boyan Slat is adamant this is a speed hump rather than a road block
The Ocean Cleanup Project says it has gathered around 2,000 kg of plastic so far
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The Ocean Cleanup Project says it has gathered around 2,000 kg of plastic so far
View gallery - 8 images

It is now around two and a half months since the Ocean Cleanup Project installed its first trash-catching barrier in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and things are not going exactly to plan. The team has encountered some trouble getting the system up to the required speeds and now inspections of the approximately 600-meter-long barrier have uncovered a problematic break in the chain, prompting a return to shore for repairs.

The Ocean Cleanup Project's system is a giant U-shaped barrier designed to sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect plastic waste. But about a month after it was towed into position, the team found it was struggling to maintain the speeds needed to gather the trash. Then in December, it reported that its initial solution to the problem hadn't exactly done the trick, and it was returning to the drawing board.

Now, another problem has emerged. The team says that during a regular inspection it found one of barrier sections tacked onto the main 580-meter-long section had detached as a result of a fracture. The cause is believed to be a combination of material fatigue and stress, but the main section and the 18-meter end section are intact and no material has been lost. The incident does mean that the system's sensors and satellite communication modules are now compromised, so it's been decided to bring it in for repairs.

The Ocean Cleanup Project’s system is a giant U-shaped barrier designed to sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect plastic waste
The Ocean Cleanup Project’s system is a giant U-shaped barrier designed to sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect plastic waste

If there's a silver lining in this, it's that it will be easier for the team to make upgrades on shore that might solve the earlier plastic-retention issue. And although it hasn't been out at sea for as long as it hoped, it does already have terabytes of data on how the system interacts with plastic, which will be helpful as it continues making its improvements. Despite its troubles, it has also managed to haul in around 2,000 kg of plastic waste so far.

The Ocean Cleanup Project has its share of naysayers and outright critics, who never believed the system would work or that it would only serve to further damage the marine environment. Despite the latest setback, CEO Boyan Slat is adamant this is a speed hump rather than a road block, stating he is confident these "teething problems are resolvable," and that the cleanup can continue in 2019.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

View gallery - 8 images
9 comments
Nobody
Anyone who has tried to pull a large net through the water knows how much drag there is. As the net collects plastic, the drag would go up dramatically if not exponentially. Taking too big of a bite quickly leads to an overload. Not being repairable at sea is another handicap. Since various sizes of plastic waste could quickly clog a net, some sort of conveyor akin to a combine might work better. The path would be narrower but the pickup would be continuous.
kwalispecial
I applaud their effort. We spend trillions/yr devising better ways to kill people, with R&D on jets, ships, and bombs going on for decades. If it takes them a few tries to come up with the winning tool for cleaning up this mess, I don't see that as a problem. Keep up the good work!
happy65
I applaud the effort! At least they are trying to do something to repair the wreck we have made of our environment. Keep trying folks! I think we all could help by using less plastic product.
jd_dunerider
Here's a quote from an article that took me 2 seconds to find: "By analyzing the waste found in the rivers and surrounding landscape, researchers were able to estimate that just 10 river systems carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean. Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger."
The ocean cleanup project is about like applying a single bandaid to a person who has 3rd degree burns over their entire body, while the burn victim is taking a bath in a river of lava. To fix the problem, cut the flow of lava.
Sure, plastic straws are being banned in places, plastic bags are being banned, and several other measures are slowly growing that will maybe reduce the problem by a fraction of a percent because they are happening in 1st world countries. It will do zero good.
To fix this problem, you have to go to the REAL source, 3rd world countries in Asia and Africa! They would be far more successful placing ocean cleanup nets at the river inlets to the ocean. But helping these countries prevent their trash from ending up in the ocean to begin with is the real fix. Once the flow is cut off, then you can start worrying about cleaning up what's already in the Ocean.
Synner
Only 4000lbs? With a price tag in the hundreds of millions? No thank you, this is starting to sound like a publicity stunt.
Remove this piece of trash from our oceans ASAP and put that money towards cleaning up the world's river systems like another user commented.
tyme2par4
@jd_dunerider I'd say it's more like trying to bail out a boat with a dozen holes in it using a cup. I agree, the source of the problem has to be addressed, but any amount of bailing will slow the sinking.
jd_dunerider
@tyme2par4 I admire that they are doing something, but I think your anology had been more accurate if you had said a thimble used to bail water out of the Titanic. I honestly believe they should go test their technology at the river inlets.
S Michael
jd_dunerider... said it all. We the first world countries are not the problem.
Captain Danger
Sure the nets should go at the source , but that would bring to much attention to the countries that are causing the problem Much easier to stage publicity stunts like this. I would suspect that more than 4000 lbs of fuel have been burnt in these trials.