Tool for gathering pollution in the Pacific is brokenMarie Donlon | January 07, 2019
A trash-collection tool in the Pacific Ocean is broken, according to reports. The 2,000 ft floating boom from The Ocean Cleanup project will make an 800-mile journey to Hawaii for repairs after damage from an onslaught of wind and waves in the Pacific.
The boom corrals waste in and around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large mass of debris floating in the waters between Hawaii and California. The broken device is likely to delay The Ocean Cleanup’s aim of removing 50% of the waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the next five years. Currently it is unclear how much of that goal has already been met. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is home to an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of floating trash, and is thought to be double the size of Texas according to some reports.
According to makers of the device, garbage collection will resume if repairs are made. If repairs can’t be made, the boom will return to its home port of Alameda, California.
"This is an entirely new category of machine that is out there in extremely challenging conditions," said Boyan Slat, the inventor of the boom. "We always took into account that we might have to take it back and forth a few times. So it's really not a significant departure from the original plan."
News of the damage follows recent reports that the device was not working as intended when launched in September by the nonprofit organization, The Ocean Cleanup, as waste was discovered escaping the device.
The system of floating tubes, held in place by floating anchors on the ocean’s surface, is meant to capture and collect waste. Forming a U-shape, it corrals trash floating in its direction as the wind and waves move the boom through the water at greater speeds than the trash, trapping the garbage in the middle. The tube, which includes a net that gathers debris from below the surface of the water as well, is transported by tugboat and is occasionally accompanied by a support vessel that removes the debris.
Testing of the device demonstrated that the waste escapes and floats away. Explanations include the possibility that the tubes are not moving at speeds greater than the speed of trash, making it difficult for the tool to hold onto the waste. The device's engineers also believe that the tubes may be too short and their vibrating ends push the trash away.
Moving the boom to port in Hawaii will provide engineers the chance to fix the boom and evaluate its waste collection challenges.