Boyan Slat One Step Closer to Launching World's Largest Ocean Plastic Cleanup
Boyan Slat's plan to rid the world's oceans of plastic with his revolutionary ocean-cleaning system is set for real-life trials next year after last week's successful tests in the Netherlands of a scaled-down prototype at Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN), the Guardian reports.
First waves! https://t.co/3J77A5V8PM— Boyan Slat (@Boyan Slat)1446730566.0
The 21-year-old Dutch is the founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious operation involving a massive static platform that passively corrals plastics with wind and ocean currents. The array features a floating V-shaped boom so that fish and other marine life can swim underneath.
Further trials will take place off the coasts of Japan and the Netherlands, and if all goes to plan, the project will officially launch in 2020 and be the longest floating structure ever deployed in the ocean.
The Ocean Cleanup describes itself as the “world’s first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic,” but the journey hasn't all been smooth sailing.
"Testing for this is no simple matter," The Ocean Cleanup wrote in blog post from MARIN. "The oceans are an environment with unpredictable, powerful forces that defy perfect simulation. Waves come from a variety of directions at once, and currents below the surface complicate matters even more."
And so the testing begins... https://t.co/ul22iOnO4r https://t.co/EjUSpw4Qsr— The Ocean Cleanup (@The Ocean Cleanup)1447086620.0
Hydrodynamic engineer Mark Paalvast said in the blog post that the tests at MARIN will determine the feasibility of the project.
“The MARIN offshore basin is one of the best facilities in the world to do these tests,” he said. “It can send currents and waves from many different angles simultaneously, and at varying speeds. We will do lots of simulations and then use the data for additional computer modeling too.”
There have been other road blocks as well. Some critics have written off the idea, and Asma Mahdi, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told the Guardian there's the potential for harming sea life caught in the project’s cleanup barrier.
“By skimming floating debris off the surface, we may be doing more harm than good for marine surface-dwellers,” she said. “This includes the microscopic plankton that are the base of the marine food web and responsible for nearly half of the oxygen production that occurs on our planet.”
Slat responded, “The current flows underneath the barriers, taking away everything with neutral buoyancy—like plankton and other fish—while the positively buoyant plastic, up to a certain threshold, remains in front of it.”
He has taken his other critics head-on with a 530-page feasibility report composed of 70 scientists and engineers. The report concluded that the concept “is indeed likely a feasible and viable ocean cleanup technique.” Their conclusion has also been peer-reviewed by external experts, Slat attested in a blog post.
Another problem is the economic sustainability of the project. While half of The Ocean Cleanup's €30m ($32 million) budget was raised through crowdfunding and from wealthy donors, the company hopes to stay afloat financially through a ocean plastic retail line, the Guardian reports.
“We’ve analyzed the quality of the plastic which was surprisingly good,” Slat said. “We did some tests and the material is very recyclable. Tens of companies—large corporations—have shown an interest in buying up the plastic and that is our holy grail; funding the clean-up using revenues created by the plastic we extract.”
Slat, a former aerospace engineering student, proposed this ocean plastic-capturing concept when he was only 17, making headlines about his plan to clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within a decade.
Over the years, Slat and his Ocean Cleanup team have taken several ocean research expeditions and discovered after a trip to the Pacific earlier this year that the plight of plastic pollution was much worse than they imagined.
“The previous studies estimated 10 kilos of plastic per square kilometer but we found it was in the hundreds of kilos per square kilometer,” Slat said.
Plastic pollution is a clear threat to aquatic life and marine ecosystems. About 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans annually.
A recent study found that 90 percent of seabirds have mistakenly eaten plastic and the numbers will rise if plastic pollution worsens.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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