It seems almost too good to be true – a method of cleaning up the oceans that requires virtually no energy and has no negative impact on the environment.
But that’s what’s planned as the first 100 metre-long prototype clean-up boom, nicknamed ‘Boomy McBoomface’, is towed into the North Sea to begin trials. If all goes well it will be scaled up for real-life trials off the Japanese coast next year. And if that works out, a full-scale 100km-long version will be put into service to clear up the ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ between California and Hawaii in 2020.
It’s a tall order. The floating plastic archipelago is estimated to be bigger than Texas, but developers are aiming to almost half of it over the course of a decade.
Natural sea currents and winds will do all the work as they funnel plastic debris into the crook of a V-shaped rubber elbow where it can be collected by boats at regular intervals. The plastic can then be recycled and there are even plans for the project to eventually offer an element of self-funding, through selling it off and also promoting its own range of ocean plastic fashion wear.
The barrier will be anchored by cables to the sea floor, at depths of up to 4.5km – something which has never been tried before. Sub-sea buoys at depths of up to 30 metres will help to keep it in place and sea currents beneath the boom will allow fish to pass through, while collecting up to 42% of the plastic floating on the surface of the Pacific.
The project, part-funded by the Dutch government and crowd-sourced funding, is expected to cost around £230m (€300m).
There are lots of unknowns, including its ability to withstand use for decades at sea, and the possible effects on surface-dwelling sea life, such as plankton, but the signs so far are good.
Other versions are also being looked at for placement across river mouths to stop much of the estimated 800 tonnes of plastic that flow into the Pacific and Indian oceans every year.
And that name? The 21-year-old self-styled ‘super geek’ who founded the project, Boyan Slat, named it after the Natural Environment Research Council used the internet to decide the name of its new polar research ship – and nearly got stuck with Boaty McBoatface.
It might seem like a joke, but Boomy McBoomface could soon be doing its bit to save the planet.
Image courtesy of Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup