Ocean Cleanup's $20M plastic-catcher breaks, founder vows 'troubles are solvable'

James Marshall
January 6, 2019

The system - dubbed Wilson after the volleyball in the movie Castaway - will be towed back to port along with around 2,000 kg of plastic that has been recovered from the patch over the past few weeks. The plan was to begin cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a giant floating mass of more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic twice the size of Texas.

The plastic pipe-and-skirt system placed in the Pacific Ocean to corral marine litter needs fix for "structural malfunctioning" about two-and-a-half months after being deployed to the garbage patch halfway between California and Hawaii.

The 2,000-foot long boom is created to capture marine plastic via 10-foot deep screens, with bulkheads for storage. The system was created to gather plastic pollution from the ocean's surface to a depth of 10 feet.

Hopefully, no one is keeping score because if they were it would be Great Pacific Garbage Patch: 2, Wilson: 0.

This "structural malfunctioning of the cleanup system" means the team is returning to port earlier than planned, the project founder Boyan Slat said on the organisation's website.

Founder & CEO Boyan Slat announced the news in a December 31 blog post, saying "setbacks like this are inevitable when pioneering new technology at a rapid pace", and maintaining that " these teething troubles are solvable, and the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be operational in 2019". The system's deployment followed years of Ocean Cleanup research and fundraising that generated about $35 million in donations and sponsors, including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. "Also, because no material was lost, there have been no safety risks for the crew, environment or passing marine traffic".

But on Thursday, after months at sea, 24-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat said there are some major setbacks.

The company is investigating the cause of the break and believes the system will be back in operation this year.

The Norwegian nonprofit Ocean Cleanup announced January 3 that its sea debris cleaner dubbed System 001 is being towed back to San Francisco. This will allow them to address the barrier's plastic retention issue, said Slat.

The organization has also observed that the system creates waves, possibly preventing plastic from entering the mouth of the device.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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