Researchers Reveal Secret to Cleaning up Ocean’s Floating Plastic

posted: 01/19/16
by: Danny Clemens
Plastic bag floating over reef in the ocean, Costa Rica
Matt Paul/Getty Images

Throughout the world's oceans floats enough plastic pollution to fill hundreds of jumbo jets, much of which has accumulated into a floating mass of plastic sludge known as the Great Pacific garbage patch.

While scientists are attempting to deploy technology to the middle of the ocean to clean up the floating mass of garbage, research suggests they should refocus their efforts to the problem's source: coastlines.

In a newly published study, Imperial College London professor Dr. Erik van Sebille and undergraduate student Peter Sherman mapped out ocean currents to determine the traffic pattern of floating debris in the Pacific.

The pair found that plastic interceptors placed near the Chinese and Indonesian coastlines could potentially collect nearly twice as much debris as interceptors located in the massive gyre.

Related: 8 Trillion Small Pieces of Plastic Enter Aquatic Habitats Each Day

Furthermore, collecting floating plastic at its source diminishes its opportunity to harm marine life, while debris collected directly from the massive floating patch has already had the chance to wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems.

"We need to clean up ocean plastics, and ultimately this should be achieved by stopping the source of pollution," Sherman says in a news release. "However, this will not happen overnight, so a temporary solution is needed, and clean-up projects could be it, if they are done well."

Van Sebille and Sherman performed their research with the work of The Ocean Cleanup in mind. The organization announced last year that it had developed a passive system of floating barriers that removes plastic debris from the ocean nearly 8,000 times faster than traditional cleanup methods -- and for a fraction of the price.

See Also: 90 Percent of Seabirds Have Plastics in Their Gut

The organization's first plastic intercepting device is slated to launch off of the coast of Japan in the second quarter of this year.

Van Sebille and Sherman's research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.


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