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Editor | Kate Byng-Hall

Ocean Cleanup: How Plastic Traps Intend to Save Our Oceans

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Ebony Bolter Explores Large-Scale Efforts To Combat Plastic Waste In Our Oceans.

Photo by Caleb George

The Plastic Problem

In recent years plastic and our oceans have become more connected and its affect on our oceans have become more apparent – David Attenborough's Blue Planet II brought the damage of single-use plastic waste to our oceans into the public's consciousness, and viral videos of wildlife getting caught in man-made waste traps have inspired people to act against the epidemic threatening the world around us.

Due to these recent discoveries of the amount of plastic floating in our oceans, large-scale action is being taken to encourage the preservation of aquatic species and ecosystems. The Ocean Cleanup Project is attempting to solve this problem, one floating device at a time.

Despite the initial failure of the floating boom in 2018, it is being returned to the Pacific following repair to collect the predicted 1.8ton pieces of plastic residing in the ocean.

The plastic trap is a 2,000 ft long and 10 ft deep floating U-shaped device that can collect five tonnes of plastic monthly. It also features an underwater skirt that traps pieces smaller than 1cm, allowing marine life to pass underneath it.

Yet, despite being a theoretically good idea, like most, has its weaknesses. The first time the boom was in the Pacific, it only lasted 4 months before breaking. It was hard to escape the waves and wind among the ocean, and the plastic was not being retained.

If this is a recurring flaw, it may harm the Ocean Cleanup’s initiative to be able to ‘remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.’ While the principle is well intended, it’s thought it will take 60 booms and years of consistency to clear the plastic debris from the ocean.

If the 60 devices work, the system could clean up to 50% of the Pacific’s ‘Garbage Patch’ in five years. Another admirable trait of this project is how it reliable on the ocean current. Thus, does not need external, man-made energy that would harm the environment further.

Yet, it is important to stress that the prevention of plastic going into the ocean is as important as the rate in which it is cleared. George Leonard of the Ocean Conservancy stated that “If you don’t stop plastics from flowing into the ocean, it will be a Sisyphean task”, referring to the Greek myth of a task never completed.

Aiding prevention, the volunteers of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (2017) collected approximately 10,000 tons of plastic waste in less than three hours from beaches and waterways all over the world.

Ultimately, approaches to protecting the natural environment must be multifaceted. Beginning with educating people about the danger of single-use plastic, followed by stopping plastic from reaching the ocean.

The plastic reduction is being achieved in many ways through initiatives such as the Ocean Cleanup, yet also has its place in popular culture, the aforementioned “Attenborough Effect” being a primary modern example.

In the BBC’s Blue Planet documentary, very raw and upsetting footage of aquatic nature suffering featured. The shock-factor and subsequent emotional impact caused an estimated 53% decline in the US and U.K.’s single-use plastic.

Protecting and preserving our oceans starts with introspection. Invest in a glass water bottle, metal straws, toothpaste without microbeads (which damage your teeth anyway!) and carry reusable shopping bags. In combination with larger environmental projects, we have a chance to protect our oceans, which in turn protect us. | Tru. 🌱

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