After months of planning, a major effort to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is finally underway.
A giant U-shaped garbage collector, called the Ocean Cleanup System 001, set sail from San Francisco, California, last Saturday to tackle the massive pile of literal garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, CNN reports.
Ocean Cleanup System 001 was designed with the ambitious task of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash island between California and Hawaii that is three times the size of France, in mind. The contraption, Ocean Cleanup System 001 will be towed 240 nautical miles to be tested in the open ocean.
Consisting of a 2,000-foot long floating barrier and 10-foot skirt that hangs below it in the water, the tool is expected to be able to clean up 50 tons of plastic from the ocean per year, reports CNN. It will capture plastic as it moves with the current while allowing fish and other sea life to swim beneath it. Every few months, the waste collected will be picked up by boat for processing on land, according the Telegraph.
Once the garbage collector is tested and proven, it will journey two to three weeks out to sea to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where it will begin the official clean up.
While System 001 may only make a small dent in cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is estimated to contain 80,000 tons of plastic, it will serve as a test before as many as 60 larger contraptions are deployed in the future.
The efforts are being led by a Dutch nonprofit, the Ocean Cleanup, that advocates for cleaning up discarded plastics as well asl preventing new plastic from contaminating the oceans.
If successful, the effort could serve as a model for ocean clean ups elsewhere in the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just one of five massive plastic trash islands affecting oceans across the globe.
System 001 has been launched into the Pacific. The world’s first ocean cleanup system will head to its testing site, before continuing its journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For a recap of the launch visit: https://t.co/1T6XLfeMwy— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) September 9, 2018
Despite their good intentions, scientists are cognizant that any human interference could have consequences for marine ecosystems and are doing their best not to disrupt marine life.
"We're trying to solve an environmental problem so we need to be sure to make sure we don't create a bigger problem in its place," Joost Dubois, head of communications at The Ocean Cleanup told CNN. "One of the challenges we have is we want to catch plastic, not fish."
Plastic pollution is a man-made problem. Each year, at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world's oceans, harming sea life that cannot differentiate between small pieces of plastic and food. This ultimately has consequences for human health too.
Moving forward, it will be essential for scientists to keep a close eye on man-made solutions, like the Ocean Cleanup System 001, to ensure that they help rather than harm ocean life.