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Plastic has dominated human lives and activities over the past few decades. From shopping bags to toys, from water bottles to kitchenware, plastic is humankind’s most used material. However, this material that is so useful in our daily lives is harming marine animals and ecosystems, polluting the oceans, and spoiling the lovely view on beaches.
Every year, researchers and NGOs find a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic in oceans. This is extremely bad for marine species.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the common debris found in marine trash includes:
1. Aluminum cans
2. Food packaging, wrappers, and containers
3. Glass bottles
4. Plastic bags
6. Plastic stirrers and straws
7. Paper bags
8. Fishing gear
Scientists and researchers have predicted that we will have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. While the ocean plastic problem won’t be going away anytime soon, many small companies and organizations are working to create ways of slowly cleaning up the ocean.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the major ocean cleanup technologies and techniques and their methodology.
System 001 is a 62-mile-long barrier. Its main targets are microplastics and ghost fishing nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Ocean Cleanup created this system. The barrier, located between Hawaii and California, removes around 80,000 tons of garbage from the ocean.
The design of the system helps it move in sync with ocean currents, allowing it to pick up plastic and debris effectively. Once the system is full, it removes the plastic. Ever since its first launch, experts have been closely monitoring System 001 to ensure that it does not interfere with marine life. The Ocean Cleanup created System 001 to protect the marine environment by capturing plastic before it degrades into microplastics.
The Seabin Project developed Seabin V5 to gather trash floating in calm waters such as harbours and marinas. Experts at the Seabin Project made this system entirely out of recyclable materials. It has a vacuum-like design that pumps ocean water into a filter bag located inside the system. Once filtered, it pumps water back out into the ocean, leaving only the trash trapped inside. Apart from collecting plastic and waste, it also absorbs oil from the ocean water.
Seabin V5 can remove up to 44 pounds of waste from the ocean daily. It cleans 1.4 tons of ocean waste every year. Marinas and harbour do not host much marine life since ships constantly move in and out of the area, disturbing the waters and creating pollution. Therefore, Seabin V5 can operate with minimal impact on marine environments. The expert team at the Seabin Project is continuously coming up with new ways and methods to improve the system. They’re working to integrate a bag into the system to collect microplastics, oil, and fuel pollutants.
Clearwater Mills, LLC developed a technology, Mr Trash Wheel, to remove waste from rivers and streams. The design is ingenious. The technology consists of a water wheel. The rotating wheel captures plastics and other debris from the water body and turns them into electricity. It can remove up to 38,000 pounds of waste daily. So far, it has prevented 1.6 million pounds of debris from ending in the ocean.
Apart from debris, it can also collect oil slicks. A conveyor belt powered by solar panels and river currents moves the accumulated trash in a floating barge. The waste is then incinerated to produce electricity. The conveyor belt is strong enough to pick up any waste flowing down the river, including mattresses, tires, and even trees. The conveyor belt also moves very slowly, ensuring species that stray near the machinery have plenty of time to move away. The design of Mr Trash Wheel allows it to operate in environments like tidal waterways too. That means the wheel will work even when water flows upstream.
In 2018, RanMarine Technology created this system with a design inspired by the whale shark. WasteShark is a water drone. It collects waste from the sea before the winds and tides can carry it deeper into the ocean. It floats on the sea surface and collects trash like plastics and biowaste.
The technology enables the experts at the organization to pre-plan a route for the drone. They usually develop courses to cover the most polluted areas or areas with the most waste. The WasteShark can even send back information to the team about the water’s pH level and salinity.
Reading about all these sophisticated and advanced ocean cleanup technologies may make you feel like cleanup organizations have it all sorted out and that the ocean doesn’t need your help to keep it clean. That is not true. We can all do something at the individual level to make the jobs of ocean cleanup organizations easier. In a small but significant way, we can contribute to keeping our oceans clean and protecting marine life.
1. Ditch plastic
Eliminate your use of plastic and switch to alternatives that biodegrade faster without harming the ocean. Simple things like cloth grocery bags, glass or metal water bottles, and paper straws can make a significant positive impact in the long term.
2. Avoid products that harm the ocean
While plastic is the main contributor to ocean waste, other things also pollute the seas. Many cosmetic products like sunscreens contain chemicals that increase toxicity in the ocean. When you go swimming in the sea, this material can get wiped off your body and carried into the water. Cosmetics can even leave your body when you shower, entering sewages. All sewage drains into the ocean. Do your own research and find out which products will not harm and pollute the sea.
Use your rights to elect public officials that support policies that protect the environment, including marine environments.
4. Pick up your trash
It is astonishing that even with so much awareness about the dangers our oceans are facing, people continue to leave waste behind on beaches. When you visit the beach, make sure you pick up and properly dispose of all your trash. And don’t stop there. Pick up the waste left by other people too. Although you may not think picking up other people’s trash is your responsibility, it has an enormous impact. If you live near a beach, gather like-minded members of your neighbourhood and organize regular beach cleanups.
Ocean cleanup technologies, along with collective action from ordinary individuals like us, will ensure that marine life can thrive and we can continue, in a sustainable way, to obtain resources from the sea.