Someone Just Made A Vacuum For The Pacific Garbage Patch

Words:: Bradford McArthur

Most everyone has heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch or the Pacific Gyre, but did you know there is a serious effort to actually clean the thing up?  The Ocean Cleanup has a lofty goal of cleaning up 50% of the gyre plastic in 5 years, all with passive systems.  If the company wasn’t from the Netherlands we would simply laugh and move on.  However coming from a country where sustainability is more in fashion than yoga pants and trucker hats, they might be onto something.

The system is quite simple and is essentially a net drifting with the currents.  Plastics collect on one side and are eventually retrieved when the system is brought back to shore.  We live in wildly divergent times right now, we’re dumping more plastics into the oceans then we ever have before, yet we are also launching some of the largest clean up projects in history.  Vacuuming the ocean?  Would anyone have guessed that 100 years ago?

At Mountain Life we were so intrigued, we reached out to our friend Kooper McGee who had worked on the tug that tested one of the prototypes.-ML

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Sea trials for the Clean Up Project
Sea trials for the Clean Up Project

Hey Kooper, thanks for taking the time to give us some insider info on The Ocean Cleanup.  The Pacific Gyre is a doozy of a problem and it’s certainly neat to see some people taking action no matter how daunting the issue might seem.  Sounds like you spent time towing some of the prototypes out to sea.  Did it feel like a different project than your other marine work, or just a regular day on the clock?

It really is a doozy, I’m glad people are starting to make an effort in cleaning it up. Yeah I was only involved for a brief amount of time, sailing as a deck engineer aboard the tug that towed out a section of the first boom they’ll take out to the Pacific Gyre. The goal was to figure out how it would hold up in various sea & wind conditions. It was a completely different kind of marine work than I’m used to but I was thankful to be apart of the movement.

Can you explain a little bit about how it works and what the goal is?

The system is a 600 meter tube/boom that floats above the water & has a 3 meter sail attached underneath it acting as a net/sea anchor. The system works with the currents & winds, it won’t be anchored to the ocean floor but rather it’ll float free at the surface collecting plastics & sea trash as it’s being moved along the surface by the sea.

Q3 sea trials just took place, full scale deployment is next.
Towing the Ocean Cleanup encatchment out to sea.
How did the test runs go that you were apart of?

As far I know, it went well. I worked the night shift in the engine room & drove the Ocean Clean Up guys around the boom in the morning in the small skiff we had while they did tests.  It seemed like a success.

There are just so many variables working against it.  Distance from shore, weather, mechanical issues, titanic size of the gyre.  Based on your experience what is the largest obstacle holding the project back?

I think the biggest obstacle the project will face will be the actual size of the gyre. It’s growing & will continue to grow until we change our plastic consuming ways onshore. Last I heard it fluctuates in size.

Just taking the dog out for a stroll
Lots of fanfare surrounding the Sept 8th sea trails

Once everything is set and the project is collecting trash, essentially cleaning our oceans, are you going to go on a speaking tour telling us all how you saved the planet?  What have you got going on in your near future?

I wish. I’m happy I got to be apart of the movement, but I actually took on a different job in the maritime industry that works better with my life is right now.

Cool, thanks for your time Kooper!

To learn more head to the Ocean Cleanup site, they’re always taking volunteers.  Free trip to the garbage patch…