THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH
Since the debut of Blue Planet II, a global consciousness of the impacts of plastic waste has begun to form. Huge numbers of companies have announced measures to reduce the amount of plastic entering landfills and the ocean, which is a really positive step towards securing the future of our marine life. However, the damage we have done often seems irreparable; every breaking story seems to highlight the dreadful things humans have done to our environment. I’m writing this piece to show you that there are people out there who really, deeply care about the environment. For all the greed and horrors in the world, there are people who work tirelessly to make our planet a better place.
Although ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ sounds like something my mum might call my room, it’s a lot more serious. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is a plastic accumulation zone in the water between California and Hawaii. The nature of ocean currents means that plastic which finds its way into the water accumulates in one of five locations, and the GPGP is one of them. Once rubbish finds its way into these patches, it doesn’t disperse. The expanse of detritus spans 1.6 million km² — over twice the size of France! Researchers predict that this area contains at least 79 thousand tonnes of plastic. Naturally, this poses a massive threat to marine life, so the existence of the GPGP is hugely worrying. If left alone, the GPGP would expand year upon year, potentially rendering the ocean functionally dead in the areas it extends to.
However, there is a ray of hope among the rubbish. A new project, affectionately nicknamed ‘Project Wilson’ (an ode to the film Castaway), has begun to tackle this gargantuan problem. An initiative called The Ocean Cleanup has developed apparatus which could effectively save our oceans from further degradation, as well as reversing some of the damage which has already taken place. These apparatus are comprised of a giant C-shaped tube which floats on top of the water, attached to an underwater ‘skirt’ which extends 3m down into the ocean. The forces of wind, waves and currents which cause the plastic to accumulate in specific areas are harnessed by the apparatus, allowing it to capture plastics while allowing marine life to pass through unharmed. The diagram in the gif below gives an overview of how this works. Every couple of months, the marine equivalent of a bin lorry will come and tow away the rubbish which accumulates within the ring.
In a weeks time, the first of these apparatus is going to be launched off of the coast of San Francisco. This pioneer is called System 001. If System 001 works as intended, the team behind it hope to eventually implement a fleet of 60 systems. In just five years, researchers predict that this could clean up to 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Even more impressively, researchers predict that the global implementation of this system could result in the removal of 90% of surface plastics by 2040.
I hope this has left you feeling a little more positive about the state of our planet. Caring about the environment can often seem like fighting a losing battle, but it’s really important to remember that there are millions of people who feel the same way. The Ocean Cleanup, for example, was started by a Dutch inventor at the age of 18! This just goes to show that we can make a real change if we stand up for what we believe in.