Cleaning Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Ocean Cleanup crew just returned from a successful Mega Expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

While the media often refers to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), debris items actually collect in several areas of the ocean.

The Ocean Cleanup expedition was a massive effort to collect data and map the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, also called the Eastern Garbage Patch. After the Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac 2015) finished, dozens of the yachts returned to assist The Ocean Cleanup with the effort, led by the 171-foot research vessel, Ocean Starr.

A detailed database showing vertical distribution of plastics during various weather conditions has also been completed.

The technology centers on attaching a scalable array of long, floating barriers to the sea floor and letting the ocean currents help to capture the plastic debris within the barriers. The current flows under the barrier, preventing by-catch, while containing the floating plastic garbage. These barriers can cover millions of square miles of ocean, greatly speeding the cleanup process compared with using boats and nets.

The Ocean Cleanup successfully completed a Proof of Concept project. They plan to deploy the world's first 2,000 meter long operational pilot array in 2016 in coastal waters. The goal is to begin the world's largest ocean cleanup in 2020.

This is an ambitious and admirable goal. Much of the work is volunteer based. Plastic debris breaks down over time to tiny pieces ingested by marine life, which can harm or kill the animals. Fish and marine mammals also get caught and injured by large debris like fishing nets. And toxic chemicals adsorbed by plastics can enter the food chain and cause human illnesses.

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