Boyan Slat's Ocean Cleanup Project Launches Historic First Prototype at Sea
Boyan Slat's ambitious plan to rid the world's oceans of plastic has taken another step towards reality with its first prototype to be tested at sea. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, founded by the 21-year-old Slat, has deployed a 100-meter clean-up boom today in the North Sea in The Netherlands.
The prototype was unveiled before its main partners, the Dutch government and marine contractor Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V.
The system will be installed roughly 12 nautical miles off the Dutch coast where it will undergo sensor-monitored tests for the next year. According to The Guardian, the vulcanized rubber barrier will passively coral floating trash into a V-shaped cone via the ocean's natural currents. The structure is anchored at a depth of up to 4.5 kilometers by a cable sub-system.
Today is a major occasion for Slat, who came up with his highly publicized concept a few years ago when he was only a teenager.
“This is a historic day on the path toward clean oceans," he said.
The organization pointed out that although some trash may be caught during the North Sea prototype test, collecting plastic is not its objective. Rather, "the objective is to test how The Ocean Cleanup's floating barrier fares in extreme weather at sea—the kind of conditions the system will eventually face when deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch."
"At the North Sea test site, conditions during a minor storm are more severe than those in exceptionally heavy storms (occurring once every 100 years) in the Pacific Ocean," the organization said.
A rendering of Boyan Slat's proposed Ocean Cleanup Project that features 60 kilometer-wide net and boom system to passively capture drifting plastic. The aim is to clean up nearly half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch's plastic pollution in 10 years. Photo credit: Ocean Cleanup Project
If everything goes as planned, the first operational pilot system will be launched off Japan's coast in 2017 to stop plastic pollution from reaching Tsushima island. By 2020, The Ocean Cleanup with deploy a full-scale, 100-kilometer-long system between Hawaii and California to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Slat, however, noted that a successful test does not necessarily mean the North Sea prototype will survive. “I estimate there is a 30 percent chance the system will break, but either way it will be a good test."
Prototype has arrived at test site https://t.co/oD5GTGKnQm— Boyan Slat (@Boyan Slat)1466677331.0
The Ocean Cleanup describes itself as the “world's first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic," and the team saw successful tests of scaled-down prototypes at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands last year.
The Dutch government, which is in full support of the project, is convinced of its feasibility, as The Guardian reported. The entire project will eventually cost an estimated 300 million euros.
“The Ocean Cleanup is an inspiring example of how we can tackle the growing problem of ocean pollution," Dutch Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma said. "I hope that with the help of the Dutch government, Boyan's prototype will turn out to be the successful solution for cleaning up the mid-ocean gyres. This is crucial to prevent permanent damage to the environment and marine life, due to the degradation and fragmentation of plastic waste materials."
Today @BoyanSlat @TheOceanCleanup launches his #TOCprototype in Scheveningen. #Plasticsoup #innovation https://t.co/zfbgOkO2Zn— MinisterieEZK (@MinisterieEZK)1466582626.0
UK-based Eunomia Research & Consulting recently compiled a report that shows an astounding 94 percent of the plastic that enters the ocean ends up on the ocean floor, with an estimated average of 70 kilograms of plastic per square kilometer on the seabed.
But Slat has taken his 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.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.