It’s one of those projects you really want to succeed: an almost non-invasive way to clean up large quantities of the plastic debris floating in the world’s oceans, including the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In 2015, Scuba Diver Life reported on then 20-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat’s improbable, but fantastic, Ocean Cleanup Array, meant to do just that. Slat proposed to create large, V-shaped barges that would float on the surface and collect plastic debris. He first presented the plan in 2014 and gave a TED talk about his vision.
In the original plan, Slat stated that his non-profit, The Ocean Cleanup, would test the system near Japan in 2016. Full-scale operation would start in 2020.
Marine scientists and engineers did express skepticism at the project’s likelihood of success. Biologists and geologists expressed concern about anchoring the structure, which would be the largest off-shore structure ever built, to the bottom of the Pacific, which is almost three miles deep at the proposed site.
Change of plans for The Ocean Cleanup
Now, Ocean Cleanup has reportedly changed plans a bit. They’ve launched a prototype off the Dutch coast, not in an attempted clean-up effort, but rather to test the toll on the unit in the rough sea.
In May of this year, they issued another press release stating that they’ve changed the design somewhat. Units will be smaller and rather than anchoring to the bottom, they will utilize drift anchors. This will keep the units in place, but also allow them to move with the same currents that move the plastic.
Rather than testing off the coast of Japan, the company will now test the redesigned unit off the West Coast of the U.S. starting in late 2017. The initial deployment will take place in the first half of 2018. According to the company, they will be able to collect up to half the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years.
So far scientists have conducted tests of the mechanism’s collection rate and viability in laboratories or in simulations. But if the company’s numbers are accurate in the open ocean, it would be excellent news for the marine environment.