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Solar-Powered Vacuum Could Suck Up 24,000 Tons of Ocean Plastic Every Year

With more plastic than fish expected in our oceans by 2050, cleaning up this mess seems like an impossible task. But a team of inventors from Sussex, England have developed a novel solution. The SeaVax is a solar- and wind-powered ship that can suck up plastic waste.


The inventors at Bluebird Marine Systems LTD unveiled their proof of concept at the government-funded Innovate UK show in London in November. The inventors are entering prototype phase, the Express reported.

The ship purportedly works by funneling plastic waste as it moves forward. According to this mockup posted to the Innovate UK website, once built, the vessel will be around 144 feet long and fully autonomous. Deck-mounted solar panels and two wind turbines will feed power to electric pumps and filters that can suck up plastic solids and micro plastics. An onboard shredder rips and breaks up larger pieces of debris.

The builders calculated on their website that the finished robovac will be able to generate enough energy to treat an average of 89.9 million liters of seawater in a year, translating to 22,400,000 kilograms of plastic from a body of water that has high concentrations of surface solid plastic, such as river estuaries.

"Working in a fleet, these autonomous robotic boats could keep plastic buildup contained and significantly reduce the existing ocean gyres in around 5-10 years, cost effectively," the inventors said.

The captured plastic is temporarily stored in a cargo hold that can carry around 150 tons of weight until it can be off-loaded or recycled, the inventors said.

"With our system all sizes of rubbish, from huge fishing nets to deadly micro particles, can be swept or sucked up, ground down and stored in SeaVax's tanks," project director Chris Close explained to the Express.

The project has reportedly cost £138,000 (roughly $198,000) and a year to develop.

There are various ocean cleanup projects already underway, but Dr. Marcus Eriksen, research director at 5 Gyres Institute, explained to EcoWatch that many of the open ocean techno-fixes have died down in the last five years.

It's "mostly because the science of plastic pollution tells us plastics fragment quickly, are mostly small particles widely distributed across the globe and are highly toxic after time at sea—more akin to a smog of plastic rather than a consolidated patch," he said. "Recovery is much more challenging than we thought, and the ocean is rapidly beaching it and sinking the smallest particles."

Dr. Eriksen also pointed out that by-catch and the unintended killing of passively floating organisms that can't swim away is a big issue around any cleanup contraption.

Another issue, he said, is the "PR challenge of not letting post-consumer cleanup distract the attention of the public and policymakers from circular economy thinking, like upstream design innovations and policy intervention that prevent the problem in the first place."

For what it's worth, Bluebird Marine Systems said their finished SeaVax will feature automatic shutdown in case marine life is detected, as well as an SOS beacon to alert rescue workers of any marine life-threatening situations.

The company also said on their website, "We agree with most others, that we must begin to look closer to home, to try to prevent our rivers from feeding the oceans in the first place—and we should use less plastic for packaging."

Open-ocean clean up devices are better for capturing persistent plastic products like fishing gear that's designed to last years or decades, Dr. Eriksen noted.

"Catching that before it fragments into microplastic is worthy," he said. "The biggest advantage to these clean-up contraptions is deployment upstream. That's where the waste really is the worst. You'll get your biggest bang for your buck, and you will save our seas from the greatest source of contamination. The further upstream you go, the more success you will have."

According to the Express, Bluebird Marine Systems has already received interest from people in India trying to develop a clean-up solution for the polluted Ganges river. There was also interest from Nigeria and Australia who might want to use the device for oil cleanup.

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New Mexico Tribes Step Up to Protect Land Before Fossil Fuels Vote

Native American tribes are voicing concerns and demanding input on regulations on fossil fuel development in a New Mexico county, in the latest wave of tribal voices growing louder on oil and gas development across the country.

Sandoval County, home to 12 Native tribes, will hold a final vote in January on a draft ordinance to regulate oil and gas development in the county. In packed public meetings over the proposed ordinance last week, tribal leaders called out the lack of tribal input in the draft ordinance and raised concerns over the ordinance's lack of protections for water, air and land resources.

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Why Thanksgiving Is the Perfect Time to Give Up Meat

By Peter Kalmus

Of all our holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. It's a time out from the frenetic pace of life, a time for families to slow down and gather in the kitchen—to just be. It doesn't lend itself to the garish onslaught of commercialization. (You can sense the capitalist frustration and over-compensation in that oddest of add-ons, Black Friday). And for me, Thanksgiving was the perfect time to finally give up meat.

My journey to vegetarianism has been one of gradual awareness. In college, while living off campus, I discovered the wonders of cooking Indian food. Because the one cookbook I owned was from the Vaishnava tradition, my Indian cookery was strictly vegetarian. At a formative period of my life, I fell in love with the flavors of India. Those dishes never wanted for meat.

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Red wolf in Randolph, North Carolina. Valerie / Flickr

Senate Republicans Push for Extinction of North Carolina's Red Wolf

Tucked away in the Senate report accompanying Monday's funding bill for the Department of the Interior is a directive to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to "end the Red Wolf recovery program and declare the Red Wolf extinct."

"Senate Republicans are trying to hammer a final nail in the coffin of the struggling red wolf recovery program," said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is morally reprehensible for Senator Murkowski and her committee to push for the extinction of North Carolina's most treasured wild predator. Instead of giving up on the red wolf, Congress should fund recovery efforts, something lawmakers have cynically blocked time and time again."

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Connecting With Nature Improves Minds and Moods

By Marlene Cimons

Twentieth Century German social psychologist Erich Fromm first advanced the notion that humans hold an inborn connection to nature. Later, it was popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life." In the ensuing years, support for the positive effects of nature has gained considerable traction, grounded in a growing body of research.

In recent weeks, at least four new studies have emerged adding more validity to what science repeatedly has revealed: Being around nature is good for us. The latest research shows that interacting with nature makes the brain stronger and soothes the psyche.

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The Trump administration has proposed increased entry fees at 17 national parks, including the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park / Flickr

You Now Have More Time to Protest National Park Fee Hikes

Following widespread outrage, the National Parks Service (NPS) has extended the comment period for the public to weigh in on the proposed rate hikes at 17 of the most popular national parks across the country.

The comment period now closes Dec. 22, 2017. The original deadline had been set for Thursday.

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Coral growth near Aqaba, Jordan. kaetidh / Flickr

Northern Red Sea Could Be Unique Global Warming Refuge for Coral

Lying at the northern tip of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba might be able sustain its coral population for another 100 to 150 years, despite global warming, new research predicts.

Scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the University of Essex and Al-Azhar University believe that a stretch of nearly 1,120 miles could become one of the few—and one of the largest—refuges for coral.

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An oil train moves through California's Central Valley. In 2009, 10,000 tank cars transported crude oil in the entire U.S. This one terminal alone proposed bringing in 73,000 cars a year. Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice

Victory: Concerned Citizens and Environmental Groups Stop Oil Train in Its Tracks

A coalition of concerned citizens, environmental groups, and health and safety advocates successfully challenged the approval of a massive refinery and rail project that will further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents in several states to the catastrophic risks of a derailment involving scores of tanker cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil.

The Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Flexibility Project, approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, would have enabled the refinery to unload crude from more than 200 tanker train cars per day, allowing it to import up to 63.1 million barrels of crude oil per year. A lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club claimed that Kern County's certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) failed to meet its legal duty to fully assess the project's risks and disclose them to the public. The court agreed.

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Keystone Pipeline Permit Could Be Revoked After Last Week's 210,000-Gallon Spill

TransCanada's permit to operate its Keystone tar sands pipeline in South Dakota could be revoked if an investigation into last week's 210,000-gallon leak determines that the pipeline operator violated its license, Reuters reported.

State regulators expressed concern that the Nov. 16 spill in Marshall County was not the first from the controversial pipeline.

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