The Ocean Cleanup’s “Mega Expedition” returned to San Francisco on Aug. 23 after a monthlong journey aiming to quantify the amount of plastic accumulated in the Pacific Ocean.
A squad of 30 vessels traveled to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch gyre — a rotating current located in the Pacific Ocean, which is estimated to contain one-third of the world’s ocean dumped plastic. The vessels traveled between Hawaii and California, adjacent to the gyre, with suspended nets used to catch large pieces of plastic debris. Their goal was to measure the “amount (total mass), spatial distribution and size distribution of plastic pollution” in the gyre, according to their website.
Lab results of the samples gathered are expected to be released in the spring of 2016, however, the initial findings indicate the mass of plastic debris present in the gyre is larger than previously expected, stated The Ocean Cleanup in a press release. According to researchers, the data highlights the urgency to take immediate action.
“The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris,” stated Boyan Slat, CEO and founder of Ocean Cleanup, on the company’s website. “But UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up. It really is a ticking time bomb.”
Since 2014, The Ocean Cleanup has been developing a cheap, three-step solution to combat the Pacific Ocean’s plastic problem: extraction, prevention and interception.
The first step of Cleanup’s 2020 plan is to surround the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with floating barriers that will trap the plastic and make the contaminates easier to extract — a method expected to remove half of the patch in 10 years’ time. Central platforms placed within the barrier walls will extract and then store the pollutants for out-of-water transportation.
In the time leading up to the gyre cleanup, the Ocean Cleanup hopes to raise awareness and help people visually understand the effects of plastic pollution. The Ocean Cleanup team created several videos documenting the expedition’s efforts as well as informational content explaining the technology used in the group’s project. Additionally, they hope to develop spin-off technology that will intercept waste entering the ocean via rivers and other runoffs by 2016.
Visit oceancleanup.com to learn more about the cleanup or to follow the “Mega Expedition” live.