Environment, News

Teen’s Project Helping To Clean The Ocean

Beach garbage from the Great Pacific garbage patch. Image: Justin Dolske

UPDATED (see below)

A teenager’s dream of cleaning up the world’s oceans may soon come true.

Boyan Slat lives in Holland, in Europe. Seven years ago, when he was a teenager, he was swimming in the ocean. He saw more trash in the water than fish. So for a school project, he made a plan to clean up the ocean.

In 2013, Slat formed a group called The Ocean Cleanup. It raised money to put Slat’s water clean-up plan into action.

On September 8, Slat’s plan began.

In the ocean between California and Hawaii there is a lot of floating garbage. It is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).

Slat’s group will clean it up using a floating plastic tube. The tube will go around the garbage and trap it.

The plastic tube is hollow. It is 600 metres long. A big screen hangs down from it, about three metres into the water.

Wind, waves and ocean currents will push the trash toward the tube. (Fish can swim under the screen.) A ship will pick up the trash and take it back to the shore to sort and recycle it.

The GPGP contains about 1.8 trillion pieces of trash. Most of it is plastic, like bottles, bags and packaging.

Plastic trash is very bad for birds and fish. They try to eat it and may become sick. They may also get tangled up in it.

The Ocean Cleanup says it will be able to clean up half of the trash in the GPGP within five years.

If this first project works well, The Ocean Cleanup hopes to launch as many as 60 more.

About 8 million tonnes of plastic end up the ocean every year. That’s like having a garbage truck full of plastic dumped in every minute.

UPDATE (Oct. 21, 2019): 

The Ocean Cleanup organization announced on October 2 that its experimental method for collecting plastic debris from the Pacific Ocean is a success.

Ocean Cleanup launched a device called System 001/B from Vancouver in June 2019. The system was towed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – the area of the Pacific Ocean with the greatest amount of floating plastic trash – for testing.

During the test, the system was adjusted to allow it to catch faster-moving pieces of plastic, and also to prevent captured plastic from floating out over the top of the device. System 001/B has now successfully captured and held
pieces of plastic ranging in size from large commercial fishing nets to one millimetre microplastics.

System 001, the first device to be tested, was launched from San Francisco in September 2018. It did not work properly, and it was removed in January 2019.

The Ocean Cleanup will now use what it has learned from testing the first two systems to develop System 002. This will be a larger device that should be able to hold the collected plastic for a longer time and eventually return it to shore for recycling or disposal.

The Story Behind the Story: Inspiration, Kids and Science

Related Links
Animated video about the Ocean Cleanup system


National Geographic video: Kids Take Action Against Ocean Plastic

Tiki the Penguin’s Guide to the Problem with Plastic

Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Waste

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
When Boyan was swimming he noticed a problem: there was a tremendous amount of garbage in the ocean. Instead of complaining about it or ignoring it, he decided to do something about it.

What’s a problem you’ve noticed in nature, in your community or in the news? What is something you could do to help solve this problem? When can you start to act on your plan?

Reading Prompt: Responding to and Evaluating Texts
While Boyan is figuring out a clever way to solve the problem, people need to think about how to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. How does “about 8 million tonnes of plastic end up the ocean every year”? Use books, the Internet and news sources to figure out the answer to this question.

Make judgements and draw conclusions about the ideas and information in texts and cite stated or implied evidence from the text to support their views (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Evaluate the effectiveness of both simple and complex texts based on evidence from the texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Language Feature: Cause and Effect
Articles and stories are organized in a way to help readers understand the text. This article explains the cause and the effect to help explain the situation in the ocean and what Boyan did about it. In your own words, what was the ’cause’ (the problem) and what will be the ‘effect’ of his solution?