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#830 Young man’s ocean clean-up plan just might work

Albatross chick after eating plastic

Duncan Wright, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, took this heartbreaking photograph of an albatross chicken that died after eating plastic; via Wikimedia Commons

“Human history is basically a list of things that couldn’t be done, and then were done.” Boyan Slat

Most people would be laughed at if they claimed they could remove 7.25 million tons of plastic from the oceans in five years and make a profit doing it. When Dutch aerospace engineering student Boyan Slat makes that outrageous prediction, people listen.

The articulate young man received an enthusiastic response when he spoke to the TEDxDelft audience about the work that won him the 2012 Best Technical Design Award at the Technical University of Delft. His research began with a school assignment. Astounded by the plastic he found on his driving trips, he worked on a science project with a friend. They wanted to attack two sides of the plastic problem, consumption and cleanup. They soon realized the impact on oceans was staggering, polluting the seas, killing sea life, and causing a billion US dollars in damage to ships every year.

The Ocean Cleanup scheme that grew out of their research is a platform that looks like a large, floating manta ray flanked by long plastic arms. Taking advantage of ocean currents to bring plastic pollution to the planned 24 installations, Slat says they can collect even the smallest particles of plastics with virtually no by-catch. The platforms will be powered by sun and wave energy. He anticipates the reusable plastic collected from the 5 ocean gyres will be sold for $500 million USD a year, which is more than the cost of the project. So cleaning up the oceans might even turn a profit as well as saving our marine environment.

Slat and a team of engineers, modellers, external experts and students are currently researching the feasibility of the technology and hope to publish their findings by the end of 2013. If the scheme is successful, it will be an elegant solution to what has come to be called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Whatever the outcome, Boyan Slat and the team working with him give me hope. These young people are turning their considerable intelligence to finding solutions to the enormous environmental issues facing us.

You can follow Boyan Slat on scoop.it, Twitter, Facebook (and The Ocean Cleanup page on Facebook) and LinkedIn.

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