Gigantic Floating Screen To Sift Plastic Out Of The Ocean

First Posted: Jun 27, 2016 06:11 AM EDT

Around eight million tons of plasic wind up in the ocean every year. To stop these things from destroying the seas, a Netherlands-based nonprofit organization is planning on helping clean them up with the help of a floating barrier prototype.

The invention is essentially a gigantic floating screen that sifts the plastic out of the water, and is currently being tested in the North Sea. Popular Mechanics noted that the thing is about 300 feet long and six feet deep, and it can collect bags, nets, bottles, and other pieces of debris left in the ocean. A cable system will then be used to shift the barrier into a V-shape to move the debris by the ocean current. And gather in the middle for removal - similar to the way booms are used to help contain an oil spill.

Allard van Hoeken, chief operating officer of The Ocean Cleanup told Scientific American, "This is a big step toward cleaner oceans. We've done years of computer modeling and successful simulations, and now we're ready to test our technology in real ocean conditions."

The goal of the screen was to monitor the barrier in rough ocean currents and gale force winds so that a full-sized device can be built to endure lasting conditions and still be able to effectively collect the trash in much larger areas. The test barrier so far has been made up of a chain or pillowlike buoys that jeep it afloat and could passively collect trash as water washes past it.

Others still remain skeptical about it, though. Jeffrey Drazen of the University of Hawaii at Mnoa said that it is good that there are people trying to come up with ways to clean up the ocean. But because it is only two meters deep, there are still plenty of organisms that can swim under it and it can potentially affect the distribution of top predators and other animals.

He suggested that in addition to clean up projects like the screen, there should be other "substantial efforts to curtail the production and use of plastics. That has to be part of the conversation."

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