World’s Largest Ocean Cleanup Project Has Stumbled In Its Quest To Clean The Pacific

The Ocean Cleanup project estimated by its inventors to clean up to 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage patch in as little as 5 years, has recently been hit with new problems as their €6 million system 001, aka Wilson, have been forced to return to harbor for repairs ahead of schedule. The reason being an 18 meter end-section had become detached from the remaining system, the cause of which at this point still remains unknown. While this did not cause any substantial material cost or safety issues for the crew, it does underline some of the issues this young technology is facing when exposed to the volatile and unpredictable environment of the ocean.

Timeline of the Ocean Cleanup project since the launch of Wilson in September, 2018

This marks the second issue since the official launch back in September. The first being Wilson’s inability to retain the plastic that it collects, which as of the 18th of December 2018 still seems to be at least partly unresolved. That being said it is not all bad news as 2,000 kg of trash was brought ashore by the Maersk Transporter. For comparison Wilson alone is expected to harvest approximately 1,000 kg a week once fully operational. Additionally, Ocean Cleanup reports that they are analyzing the gathered data to further improve upon the system.

The floating system is designed by the non-profit organisation Ocean Cleanup, which was founded by then 18 year old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat in 2013, as a way to help solve the global plastic pollution crisis. The technology and operations are in part funded on the back of crowd funding and while the launch in September 2018 was the first official full scale launch several prototypes have already been deployed and successfully tested in the worlds oceans. Wilson is the first of a projected fleet of 60 such systems.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large slow moving vortex of marine debris in the pacific between Hawaii and California. Its gyrational forces draws in plastic and other floating debris, primarily from the pacific, and keeps it in the middle of the patch. The size of it is highly disputed with ranges from 700,000 square km, approximately the size of Texas, to some 15,000,000 square km, approximately the size of Russia.

There is no strong consensus on the origin of the trash, but according to a 2014 paper the majority of it is disposed fishing gear and equipment. However, by all accounts the garbage patch is growing significantly along side its siblings the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, North Atlantic Garbage Patch, and South Pacific Garbage Patch