Photo: The Ocean Cleanup
The organization, the Ocean Cleanup has found quickly that the barrier, nicknamed “Wilson”, there was absolutely not the hoped-for results.
After having experienced a misfire since its launch, the system developed by the organization, the Ocean Cleanup to clean up the “continent of plastic” in the North Pacific has just suffered a breakdown that forces the complete shutdown of operations. A situation that raises doubts about the success of this very ambitious project, even if the organization ensures that this does not compromise the success.
The idea, unprecedented, is born from the initiative of a young Dutch 18-year-old, Boyan Slat, who was looking for a way to remove the oceans millions of tons of plastic that poison the marine environments. Supported on a convincing promotion campaign launched in 2012 on the Web, it is able to collect the $ 30 million needed to develop a system that is supposed to help concentrate the plastic in the middle of the sea, and then pick it up and bring it back to earth, to recycle it.
The imposing infrastructure, which can be compared to a pipeline floating of more than 600 meters, has been towed up to the heart of the “continent of plastic” in the North Pacific last October. Positioned in a ” U ” shape, it also has a membrane which descends into the water. Because of the wind and waves, this system needed to move ahead more rapidly than the plastic, mainly driven by the prevailing currents. He therefore had to allow to pick up at passing everything that floats.
A trial aborted
The organisation the Ocean Cleanup, however, has been faster than the barrier, nicknamed ” Wilson “, there was absolutely not the hoped-for results. In fact, the structure is moving too slowly to collect the plastic that floats. Depending on what was said Friday to have to a spokesperson for the Ocean Cleanup, Claire Verhagen, ” approximately 4500 pounds of fishing nets and plastic have so far been able to be extracted from the ocean. This is less than our expectations.”
Worse, the whole system is now unusable, after having suffered a major breakdown on the eve of the day of the Year. Ms Verhagen explained that, due to the difficult weather conditions of the North Pacific, a portion of the barrier is floating is totally detached from the rest of the system. This has forced the team to recover the portions of the drift and to begin the delicate operation of “towing” to bring Wilson up in Hawaii, where he will have to undergo major repairs.
We understand that this kind of situation is inevitable when we develop a technology pioneer like that
— Claire Verhagen
“Let’s be clear : we do not put an end to the project. Wilson will be repaired, modified and returned to the “continent of plastic” as soon as possible. We also understand that this kind of situation is inevitable when we develop a technology pioneer like that. And the fact of bringing the infrastructure to a port we will improve the system so that it retains better the plastic, ” said Claire Verhagen. Ocean Cleanup, hopes to restart operations ” later this year “, to ” bring back on earth a lot more plastic “.
Even if Wilson ends up running, the task will be colossal. The Ocean Cleanup conducted a study in order to characterize this plastic soup, located roughly between Hawaii and California, which today reaches an area of more than 1.6 million square kilometres. The results give the extent of the problem : not less than 2000 billion pieces of plastic would float in the vortex, for a weight exceeding 80,000 tons.
These pieces are very various, and include a very large amount of debris, fishing gear. Almost half of this mass of debris is composed of pieces well visible, so that waste materials that may deteriorate over time. They will form particles of microplastique that could interfere in the food chain and pose a risk to any of the marine life.
A complexity which makes the cleaning even more difficult, ” according to Sarah-Jeanne Royer, an oceanographer and a researcher at the University of Hawaii. “It is difficult to predict how the plastic will behave in the ocean over time, since its buoyancy and its degradation are influenced by the light of the sun, the colonization by marine life, including algae, etc, We can see it with the waste of the North Pacific, especially as they have taken months, or even years to form the continent of plastic. “
In this context, Ms. Royer is not surprising misfire of the project the Ocean Cleanup. “The prototype had so far been tested mainly on a small scale. It was therefore to be expected that such a complex system, which is also a unique project, there will be failures. I see this as a very long-term project. And it will be necessary to find the right way to do it before building other systems. “
The organization hopes to in effect build 60 barriers floating that would be towed to the mainland to plastic by 2020 in order to launch the actual cleaning operation. Objective : to clean 90 % of the waste by 2040. This would, however, be the beginning, since there are six of these vortex of plastic in the world. Overall, it is estimated that more than 150 million tons were already in the oceans of the planet, and that number is expected to double by 2050. And every year, humanity produces more than 300 million tons of plastic.
“Beyond these operations, however, it is crucial to develop technologies to replace the plastic,” said Ms. Royer, who participates each month in the cleaning of beaches in Hawaii. “Cleaning is not a long term solution. It is necessary to change things to avoid being caught with this problem for centuries. “