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Environment

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is About to Undergo Round 2 of a Massive Cleanup


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Ocean plastic traps and kills thousands of marine animals each year. Animals that mistakenly ingest plastic and other debris can also choke on the hazardous materials and become ill or die. Groups like the Ocean Cleanup are teaming up to address plastic pollution and protect marine wildlife, helping to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch encompasses an area twice the size of Texas — or three times the size of France — but the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit dedicated to curbing plastic pollution in oceans, hopes to cut it down to size.

The group has reintroduced a device designed to collect and properly dispose of the enormous amounts of trash swirling around in the Pacific Ocean as part of its second ocean clean up attempt, the Associated Press reported

Boyan Slat, founder of the Ocean Cleanup, announced the redeployment of the 2,000-foot long, U-shaped floating device to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in the region between California and Hawaii, on Twitter.

The cleanup device was deployed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time last September, but during its four months at sea, suffered constant blows from strong waves and wind that damaged its equipment.

The contraption was unable to retain the plastic it trapped due to the damage and was sent for repair, which took about four months to complete. Slat hopes its second deployment will prove more successful. 

“Hopefully nature doesn’t have too many surprises in store for us this time,” Slat tweeted. “Either way, we’re set to learn a lot from this campaign.”

Using traditional methods like vessels and nets to gather the waste could take thousands of years and billions of dollars to rid the ocean of all the plastic currently in it. The Ocean Cleanup says its new technology consisting of a 600-meter-long floater and a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below will more efficient and cost effective. 

Slat dropped out of college at 18 to start the Ocean Cleanup and designed the waste-collecting device, which captures and holds plastic waste until it can be picked up and processed.

The cleanup system uses the natural force of the ocean’s currents to travel and is able to move faster than plastic waste floating on the ocean’s surface. The device’s U-shape, and its attached skirt, help trap the plastic in the center of the system. A support vessel functioning as a garbage truck collects and removes the trapped plastic every few months. The waste is then sent for recycling at facilities on land.

Natural ocean currents deposit floating plastic in five particular areas, called subtropical gyres or “ocean garbage patches,” around the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the five patches, with about with about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing an estimated 80,000 tonnes — equivalent to the weight of 500 jumbo jets.

About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch enters the ocean by way of land. The patch comprises mostly of plastic bags, bottles, and other consumer products. Fishing nets make up another 10% of the litter, while the rest stems offshore oil rigs and large cargo ships. Objects like hockey gloves, computer monitors, resin pellets, and LEGO — some of it left behind by recreational boaters — can also be spotted in the massive garbage pile.

Research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup shows that most of the floating plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is close to the surface. The organization wants to remove most of the plastic from the ocean before it breaks down into microplastics — plastic pieces smaller than five millimeters — and sinks below the surface making it difficult to extract. 

This ocean plastic enters the food chain by way of the smaller marine animals and insects that ingest them, negatively impacting many larger marine animals. 

"Even if you don’t care about the crabs and the larvaceans, they're the food of things you do care about – tuna, seabirds, whales, and turtles all feed on them, or feed on things that feed on them," Anela Choy, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, told USA Today.

According to the Ocean Cleanup’s research, the floating device could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every five years; however, marine biologists on the organization’s support vessel were unable to observe any environmental impact during the vessel’s first run last year.

Still, Slat hopes to eventually deploy 60 cleanup devices to help remove even more plastic debris, according to the Associated Press.