Great Pacific Garbage Patch ocean cleanup attempt nears

The Ocean Cleanup tests a section of the floating debris-gathering system.

The Ocean Cleanup

An unsettling study released in March showed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a teeming collection of floating plastic junk located between California and Hawaii, is now three times the size of France. But it may start shrinking soon if non-profit The Ocean Cleanup gets its way.

The Ocean Cleanup is developing a floating debris-gathering system and plans to launch its first practical test run this summer. Last week, the group unveiled its final system design, which consists of a fleet of smaller free-floating systems, rather than a sole massive one as had originally planned.

The fleet, which will float in a U-shaped array, gathers up debris. In the garbage patch, the debris consists of an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and trash ranging from buckets to discarded fishing gear. A skirt below the waterline helps to gather the smaller particles under the surface, while letting marine life swim under. 

The system is stocked with lights, cameras, sensors and satellite location equipment. Once the plastic is gathered up, a ship can come and collect it like an ocean-going garbage truck.

The first test will act as a rehearsal at just 240 nautical miles from the coast of California. The Ocean Cleanup hopes to deploy its first system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,200 nautical miles offshore, by the end of the year. The organization estimates it could remove half of the garbage patch within five years

The Ocean Cleanup says it will likely continue to refine the design after the first deployment. These initial test runs should tell us a lot about the feasibility of the creative plastic-catching system.

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