Will the Ocean Cleanup Project Clean Our Seas of Plastic?
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A teenager came up with a plan to rid the ocean of the huge amount of plastic floating around in it, and everybody is super excited and giving him millions of dollars despite the fact that there’s probably not a chance in hell the plan is going to work. Get ready for some hardcore skeptic buzzkilling, you guys!
Boyan Slat is the name of the creative young go-getter, who is now 20 years old. He has proposed that we put a 6,500-foot long floating barrier in ocean tidal zones, which will catch bits of plastic as currents take them past. The barrier will be attached to the sea bed but will allow fish to move past.
It’s a lovely idea, but it is facing criticism from pretty much every field it touches on: marine biology, physics, and engineering to start. Drs. Kim Martini and Miriam Goldstein are two oceanographers who published an extremely detailed critical analysis of Ocean Cleanup’s feasibility study, and for the most part their points have gone unanswered for the past year while the organization continues toward a launch.
For instance, much of the feasibility study looked at a completely different ecosystem than where the first barrier is actually planned to be placed. That’s a huge problem when the organization is claiming to not accidentally catch and kill the populations that live near the surface.
There’s also the fact that the organization asserts that the majority of ocean plastic is in the first 3 meters of water, but the study they cite doesn’t actually probe below 5 meters, despite ample evidence suggesting that plastic mixes at lower depths. Also, the barrier wasn’t properly tested in real-world ocean environments. It was designed based on mean ocean current speeds, and not maximum speeds, leaving the very real potential that this barrier could almost immediately upon deployment turn into the largest piece of ocean garbage in the world. Irony!
Biologists like Andrew David Thaler have criticized the project for not taking into account the fact that the structure will essentially become a “Fish Aggregating Device”, basically an apartment complex for a variety of sea life. All large floating structures in the ocean attract prey species, which eventually attract predators, all of which will change migratory habits. Additionally, those species will now be exposed to a high density of plastic collected by the barrier.
So instead of getting excited about a project that not only won’t likely work but also may actually screw up fish populations and CONTRIBUTE to the amount of garbage in the water, let’s start talking real solutions. That means that first we have to stop putting all this plastic into the ocean. For a start, get your town to ban plastic bags! Doing so appears to significantly reduce the amount of plastic that even enters our water. Also, stop using soaps and toothpastes with microbeads, those little useless bits of plastic that exfoliate your skin and then go down the drain, never to be seen again, which couldn’t even be caught by the Ocean Cleanup project if it was working perfectly.
And then let’s talk large scale public works projects like installing screens that catch trash from our runoff before it enters the ocean.
And once we’re no longer dumping 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year, then we can talk about how to clean up what’s already in there.