The Earth’s oceans are the most polluted they have ever been. Now, a number of ocean cleanup initiatives are changing this.
Earlier this year, scientists found a plastic bag 36,000-feet down in the Mariana Trench. Those familiar with the trench know that it is the deepest point in the Pacific Ocean. Plastic straws, utensils, and other types of single-use plastics also feature in the waste.
But all that plastic waste tends to coalesce into a specific area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Due to ocean currents, it is, in fact, not quite a giant patch, but a series of small patches. Still, the patches are growing and Earth’s oceans are suffering.
What are people doing around the world to help Earth’s oceans?
WasteShark Aqua-drones do More Than Clean
From RanMarine Technology, the WasteShark debuted in 2016. It can take in around 500 kilograms or 1120 pounds of waste that it deposits at a collection point.
But it can also gather data about the surrounding water quality as it cleans.
WasteShark first featured at the Port of Rotterdam — one of Europe’s largest ports. However, the company also launched the Aquasmart XL, expanding beyond cleaning.
Another company, with a concept years in the making, is about to launch its own attempt to improve Earth’s oceans.
The Ocean Cleanup: 32 Days From Launch
It all began in 2013 with an idea followed by a feasibility study and a crowdfunding campaign in 2014. In 2015, the company conducted vertical distribution research, scale model testing, and a “mega expedition” to get a scope of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
After an aerial expedition and their first prototype, The Ocean Cleanup prepares to launch in just 32 days at the time of this writing. You can find a countdown timer and a link to their timeline on their website.
Headquartered in Rotterdam, the company conceived the strategy for this project with a very simple initial idea. It targets plastics before they break down into micro-plastics which sea life often mistakes for food.
Founding members and employees knew that a more aggressive system such as nets would be too time-consuming, costly, or ineffective. They decided to use a passive system that moves with ocean currents in the same way plastic waste does.
Thus came the 600-meter long “floater” with a 3-meter-deep tapered skirt.
The floating part prevents plastic from going over it while the tapered skirt prevents plastic waste from floating underneath the system.
It will move through the water, collecting plastic waste in the U-shaped system.
The Ocean Cleanup hopes to install a fleet of these systems in order to tackle one of the Pacific Ocean’s greatest ailments: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And they want to remove around 50% of it in just 5 years.
One more perk: the captured plastic waste will be returned to land, recycled, then sold to other companies for use.
More Trouble Than Just Trash
New research suggests that ocean pollution involving carbon dioxide contributes to the acidification of the oceans. This does exactly what it sounds like: raises the acidity of the water, affecting ocean life.
Specifically, the single-celled plankton coccolithophores find themselves at risk.
These organisms are many and they play a key role in the carbon cycle, as well as ocean food chains since zooplankton and small fish eat them.
Though coastal varieties of this “carbon fixer” plankton aren’t as affected, other varieties feel the increased acid levels. Any cuts into the coccolithophores population could affect the entire ocean food chain from zooplankton to apex predators.
If cities and companies embrace bioplastics or biodegradables, perhaps there we can make time to prevent more damage to these creatures and their habitats.