After five years of research, Dutch organization Ocean Cleanup has launched its first system in the Pacific Ocean. On Sunday, Ocean Cleanup towed its Ocean Cleanup System 001 from San Francisco, California, to an intermediary test stop 250-350 nautical miles offshore for a two-week trial, before sailing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The transfer of Ocean Cleanup System 001 to the testing area, where it will be installed in a u-shape configuration, is expected to take between three and five days. After the two-week trial, Ocean Cleanup System 001 will continue its journey 1,200 nautical miles offshore to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to begin the cleanup.
The Ocean Cleanup System 001, which is a 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating barrier with a 10-foot-long (3-meter-long) “skirt,” will collect pieces of plastic that are as small as one millimeter in its skirt as it drifts. The plastic gathered by System 001 will later be taken to shore by small boats for recycling. Ocean Cleanup’s crews will stay at the patch for six months to continue monitoring the cleanup process.
One of the project’s biggest challenges in the coming months will be testing how well System 001 holds up in the stormy season.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean that is estimated to cover 1.6 million square kilometers (994,193 square kilometers). Last year, in an effort to raise awareness about the size of the problem, LADbible and Plastic Oceans Foundation teamed up and launched a campaign to recognize the garbage patch – which is roughly the size of France – as a sovereign country called the Trash Isles.
For the Ocean Cleanup Project to truly make a dent in the garbage patch, they would have to deploy 60 systems to extract 50 percent of the Pacific Garbage Patch every five years.
Head of Communications at The Ocean Cleanup Joost Dubois, told CNN that: “One of the challenges we have is we want to catch plastic, not fish,” adding that the crews will manually check the garbage to make sure that they are not catching fish or other marine animals. “We’re trying to solve an environmental problem so we need to be sure to make sure we don’t create a bigger problem in its place,” he added.
A 2017 study estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans from the land annually. If Ocean Cleanup’s System 001 proves effective, it may go a way towards addressing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in oceans each year.