A massive device created to clean up the world’s oceans is so far failing to pick up plastic.
While the 600m-long net-like device is dragged through the water, it manages to pick up rubbish – but keeps on dropping it.
The $20m project was launched two months ago to tackle the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, which is believed to have an area twice the size of Texas.
It is the brainchild of young inventor Boyan Slat, who with his organisation The Ocean Cleanup has made headlines around the world for his audacious plan to tackle plastic pollution.
But now – after a month of attempts – Slat has revealed that the System 001 device (nicknamed Wilson) is facing some engineering difficulties.
“Plastic is exiting the system once it is collected, so we are currently working on finding a solution,” he says.
“Because this is our beta system – and this is the first deployment of any ocean clean-up system – we have been preparing ourselves for surprises.”
The team are still trying to understand why the problems have arisen.
“This is a challenge we didn’t predict from our scale models nor prototypes,” says Slat.
“The only way to truly see how the system would perform was to put it into the environment it has been designed for – and this application has largely been effective.”
The team are going to widen the device so that it is propelled more by wind and waves, and moves faster through the water.
Dozens of scientists and engineers have spent five years testing hundreds of models and prototypes of the current system.
The Ocean Cleanup team estimates that a full deployment of their device could get rid of 50 per cent of the Great Pacific garbage patch every five years.
However, some scientists have expressed concerns about the device, suggesting it is unlikely to make a significant dent in the ocean’s plastic and may in fact cause harm.
Shark biologist Dr David Shiffman was among those who found the project problematic, and polled 15 experts on plastic pollution to establish whether they thought The Ocean Cleanup was a good idea.
He found the majority had major concerns, including flaws in the design, threat to marine life and the amount of money that had been poured into the project instead of other efforts.