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The Ocean Cleanup is testing a prototype that could lead to a barrier 62 miles long

The Ocean Cleanup is testing what may be both the simplest and the most ambitious. It just launched a 328 foot-long prototype floating barrier that will collect trash floating in the North Sea. If it can survive the rough conditions of those waters, the plan is to deploy a 62 mile-long (!) barrier in the Pacific Ocean and reduce the size of the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- the hope is to halve the size of the trash field in 10 years.

A nonprofit foundation based in the Netherlands has launched a prototype for one of the most ambitious sea-cleaning projects yet. The innovative idea is a floating barrier that will gather the mass of plastic bits from bottles, bags, fishing nets and other trash that sloshes around in the oceans, growing every year. Once deployed, the extremely long barrier could eliminate the need for an army of boats to haul our garbage back to shore.

The 100-meter-long prototype was towed out to the North Sea today, where The Ocean Cleanup foundation plans to perform a yearlong series of tests. If the long boom succeeds, the group plans to deploy a full-scale, 100-kilometer-long version between Hawaii and the U.S. west coast in 2020, a section of the Pacific Ocean that has one of the densest deposits of plastic worldwide. “This is a big step toward cleaner oceans,” says Allard van Hoeken, chief operating officer of The Ocean Cleanup. “We’ve done years of computer modeling and successful simulations, and now we’re ready to test our technology in real ocean conditions.”

Whether or not it's an ideal solution is up for debate. The 6.6 foot-deep design shouldn't interfere with wildlife (unlike existing nets) and is intended to last through vicious storms. However, the University of Hawaii's Jeffrey Drazen warns Scientific American that a massive barrier like this could mess with the distribution of animals in the region. Also, the surface pollution is just one part of a larger problem. We'll only truly get rid of ocean debris when we avoid putting it there in the first place. Biodegradable materials and better recycling may ultimately be the key.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup, Scientific American

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