Ocean Cleanup launches System 001, sights set on Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ocean Cleanup launches System 001, sights set on Great Pacific Garbage Patch

This weekend, a 600 meter-long floating barrier was launched off the coast of San Francisco, California, marking the start of a project aimed to remove up to five tonnes of debris from the Pacific Ocean each month. The project was created by Dutch investor Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organisation that develops technologies to remove plastic from the world’s oceans.

The target of this apparatus, named System 001, is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world – it is about three times the size of France. It covers a stretch of ocean between California and Hawaii.

According to The Ocean Cleanup, there were over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch at the time of their sampling. That amount of plastic debris is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every person in the world.

This project, nicknamed “Wilson” after the famous volleyball from Castaway, is the result of five years of testing, 273 models, and the work of Slat and 70 others. While many are hopeful for the success of this project, many experts have voiced their concerns about the barrier’s effect on marine life.

The C-shaped structure is composed of 60 adjoining units that are attached to a three-metre deep skirt that collects plastic waste and discarded fishing nets. The purpose of the skirt is to trap both small and large plastic debris while simultaneously allowing marine life to swim underneath, unharmed. The barrier skims the top layer of the water and is propelled forward by the wind and currents. Every six weeks a support vessel will arrive to remove the debris and transport it to land for proper recycling.

While many are hopeful that this project will reduce the amount of pollution in the Pacific Ocean, the greatest solution to this problem remains the prevention of plastic from getting into the ocean at all. Sue Kinsey, pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, explains “While we understand the desire and passion behind this project, we feel more time and energy must be invested to stop litter entering our oceans in the first place.”

An exciting six months is ahead for System 001 as it continues to drift from the California coastline.  No one is sure exactly what it will be able to accomplish, but Slat and his team believe their barrier will be able to remove 50% of the plastics surrounding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the next five years.

The AIDF Global Summit will return to Washington D.C, in 2019. 

If you’d like to stay informed on the latest updates in aid and development, please sign up for the AIDF newsletter.  

Photo Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Be part of the humanitarian aid and development community!

Register now to receive AIDF's newsletter with insights into latest trends, innovations and best practice in the humanitarian and development sectors