A bid to clear the Pacific of its plastic debris has moved a step closer with the launch of the biggest prototype clean-up boom yet by the Dutch environment minister at a port in The Hague.
On Thursday the 100m-long barrier will be towed 20km out to sea for a year of sensor-monitored tests, before being scaled up for real-life trials off the Japanese coast at the end of next year.
The snake-like ocean barrier is made out of vulcanised rubber and works by harnessing sea currents to passively funnel trash in surface waters – often just millimetres in diameter – into a V-shaped cone.
A cable sub-system will anchor the structure at depths of up to 4.5km – almost twice as far down as has even been done before – keeping it in place so it can trap the rubbish for periodic collection by boats.
A fully scaled-up barrier would be the most ambitious ocean cleansing project yet, capturing around half of the plastic soup that circles the Pacific gyre within a decade. That at least is the plan.
The largely crowd-funded project has caught the imagination of a new generation in the Netherlands. In no small part this is down to the unaffected charisma of its 21-year-old founder Boyan Slat, a student dropout turned environmental entrepreneur.
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