An ambitious effort to corral and remove plastic from the ocean cleared an open-ocean trial this week and is now headed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that assembled its floating plastic-capture system at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, successfully completed two weeks of testing about 350 nautical miles off the coast. On Tuesday, the team was given the go-ahead to head another 1,000 miles to a location halfway between Hawaii and California.
That’s where the world’s largest accumulation of discarded junk lurks – fishing nets, plastic bottles, pieces of plastic containers and bottle caps — drifting across an area estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
When the cleanup crew arrives in about two weeks, the goal is to collect and remove larger pieces of plastic before they are broken down into microplastics.
The nonprofit’s “System001” uses a tapered screen drifting about 10 feet underwater that’s attached to floaters in a “Pac-Man” shape, to gather debris while allowing marine life to swim underneath the operation.
The nonprofit’s Twitter account said Tuesday:
“We have a GO to head to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
A meeting on Tuesday with the nonprofit’s leaders, including its founder and chief executive officer Boyan Slat, videotaped the decision to move forward.
Slat, a Dutch inventor who founded the cleanup project in 2013, said there were still questions that could only be answered when the system was at the garbage patch, adding “but I do feel definitely more confident now than I did when we launched from San Francisco three weeks ago.”
The nonprofit announced last year that it had raised $31 million since 2013, and counts Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel among its major donors.
The Ocean Cleanup’s team consists of 80 engineers, researchers and scientists, with headquarters in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. An assembly yard for its cleanup system was set up in February 2018 at the former Alameda Navy base, now known as Alameda Point.
At the time, Slat said, “Next to Alameda’s major historical military significance, it was here that the famous car chase scene in The Matrix Reloaded was filmed, and it was home to some of the best experiments of my favorite childhood TV show, MythBusters. We’re honored to be allowed to use this site as the assembly yard for the world’s first ocean cleanup system. Hopefully, we will make some history here as well.”
The goals of the recent trial included confirming that the system could be assembled into the u-shape; move at sufficient speed through the water; and reorient when wind and wave directions change.
The crew also tested the system’s ability to capture floating debris, and marine life observers on board monitored the trial. Only five fish were seen near the system, and quickly moved away, according to The Ocean Cleanup website.
After the trial concluded, the u-shape configuration was returned to a straight line, and is being towed behind a Maersk supply tug ship at a speed of about 3 knots per hour, according to the nonprofit’s website, which has a live map of its progress: https://www.theoceancleanup.com/system001/. The journey is expected to take about 12 days.