A Dutch start-up is set to deploy an innovative floating platform designed to collect garbage from the surface of the world’s ocean into the North Sea this week.
The experiment, which will assess the platform’s ability to survive in storms, is a major step towards the ultimate deployment of the technology in the Pacific Ocean.
The technology has been developed by the Delft-based Ocean Cleanup foundation, established in 2013 by aerospace engineering student Boyan Slat, who designed the system of floating barriers as part of a student competition.
The 100 meter-long prototype, unveiled today during a presentation in the Hague, will be transported 23km into the sea, away from the Dutch coast, where it will remain for one year. Sensors will be collecting data during this period to understand how the system reacts to movements of the surrounding water.
Ocean Cleanup’s engineers will then use the data to develop a sturdier platform capable of surviving the harsh conditions of the North Pacific Ocean, where the system will be ultimately deployed to reduce the size of the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The team said that conditions at the North Sea test site are even more severe than those in the North Pacific Ocean and admitted it was quite probable the platform would not survive the trial.
The prototype, developed with support of the Dutch government and dredging and marine contractor Royal Boskalis Westminster, is the first ocean cleanup system ever to be tested at sea.
The system’s long floating barriers essentially act as an artificial cost line, passively catching and concentrating surrounding debris. The barriers only move as a result of the ocean currents and don’t require any additional source of energy.
“This is a historic day on the path toward clean oceans,” said inventor and CEO Boyan Slat. “A successful outcome of this test should put us on track to deploy the first operational pilot system in late 2017.”
The amount of plastic waste floating in the world’s oceans has long concerned experts. Thousands of sea animals including whales, birds and turtles die every year either as a result of getting trapped in the plastic or by ingesting it.
“I hope that with the help of the Dutch government, Boyan’s prototype will turn out to be the successful solution for cleaning up the mid-ocean gyres,” said Dutch Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma. “This is crucial to prevent permanent damage to the environment and marine life, due to the degradation and fragmentation of plastic waste materials.”