A giant floating barrier might be the answer to cleaner oceans

With 7.4 billion people on the planet, it’s no surprise that we generate quite a bit of trash. A lot of it, in fact. And sadly, much of our waste ends up in the waters of the world, presenting a huge problem for marine life, and cyclically, us as well. A nonprofit in the Netherlands may have a solution for cleaning the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation has unveiled a huge, 328 foot-long floating barrier that will collect the miscellaneous pieces of plastic bottles, bags, fishing nets, and other trash that floats about the seas. And ideally, the barrier would replace the boats that are currently tasked with the mission of hunting for ocean waste.

Testing for a prototype of the device has already begun, with the Foundation sending a 100-meter-long (328 feet) version of the barrier to the North Sea. Over the course of the next year, researchers will test the effectiveness of the boom, including how it withstands ocean currents, waves, and the elements, and ensure that it doesn’t disrupt marine life. As for the cleaning process itself, the barrier comes with a two-meter deep screen that creates a sort of curtain, collecting trash as water passes through it. Should the results prove satisfactory, the next step would be to send the full version to the waters between Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. This barrier would stretch an impressive 100 kilometers (62 miles), and cut the amount of trash in the area by half.

“This is a big step toward cleaner oceans,” said Allard van Hoeken, chief operating officer of The Ocean Cleanup. “We’ve done years of computer modeling and successful simulations, and now we’re ready to test our technology in real ocean conditions.”

Not everyone is convinced that the boom will work. Speaking of the curtain, Jeffrey Drazen of the University of Hawaii at Mnoa noted, “It’s two meters deep, so a lot of organisms can swim under it, but you’re basically creating a gigantic floating object that still has the potential to attract and affect the distribution of top predators and other animals.” He continued, “It’s great that folks are trying to come up with mechanisms of trying to clean up the ocean,” but that’s only part of the solution. “We need substantial efforts to curtail the production and use of plastics,” he added. “That has to be part of the conversation.”

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