An ambitious project to clean up the ocean’s plastic pollution got underway over the weekend as members of The Ocean Cleanup project began towing their system out to sea.
If it works as expected, they’ll try to take a bite out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge collection of floating trash that’s three times the size of France, or about double the size of Texas.
The Ocean Cleanup System 001 consists of a 2,000 foot (600 meter) long floating barrier with a 10 foot (3 meter) skirt that hangs below it, under the water.
It looks like a section of pipe, or a giant pool noodle – a pool noodle that’s longer than the One World Trade Center skyscraper in Lower Manhattan.
It set sail on Saturday from San Francisco, California, and is being towed 240 nautical miles off shore for a two week test to make sure that it behaves as expected in the open ocean.
When it’s deployed, it will curve into a U-shape as it is pushed by the wind and waves. The slow moving system will corral the plastic floating on the surface, while fish and other ocean life can swim underneath.
Smaller boats will then come and scoop up the plastic and take it back to shore, where it can be recycled.
“One of the challenges we have is we want to catch plastic, not fish,” said Joost Dubois, head of communications at The Ocean Cleanup. He said the crews will manually check the garbage to make sure they don’t accidentally catch 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 said.
Once the shakedown cruise is over, it will take two or three weeks to tow the system another 1,000 nautical miles to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where they’ll see if it actually collects plastic and if it can survive harsh winter storms.
Crews will remain with the system for the first six months, but they hope an autonomous vehicle will be able to monitor it after that.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the nickname for an area between Hawaii and California, where plastic and other human-made litter and debris accumulate, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosp