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September 19th 2019. By Zuzana Prochazka.

Ocean Cleanup: Marine Industry Efforts

The oceans are the earth’s largest resource, producing 70% of the oxygen we breathe and providing food, jobs, energy, habitats and more to all species that share the globe. However, our oceans are under threat from pollution, particularly of the plastic kind. Five giant gyres of floating debris have formed all over the planet with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch receiving the most attention. To know the scope of the threat, we need to understand the details of ocean garbage gyres and the organizations attempting clean up efforts, as well as other risks to the planet’s water resources and the ventures ...

The oceans are the earth’s largest resource, producing 70% of the oxygen we breathe and providing food, jobs, energy, habitats and more to all species that share the globe. However, our oceans are under threat from pollution, particularly of the plastic kind. Five giant gyres of floating debris have formed all over the planet with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch receiving the most attention.

To know the scope of the threat, we need to understand the details of ocean garbage gyres and the organizations attempting clean up efforts, as well as other risks to the planet’s water resources and the ventures created to address them.

What is the Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Pacific patch was discovered in 1997 by yachtsman Charles Moore, who was on is way back to California from Hawaii after the Transpac race. He sailed into it and described it as a sea of plastic as far as the eye could see. The mass, which is purported to contain nearly two trillion pieces of plastic and be twice the size of the state of Texas, is actually made up of multiple patches with debris ferried between them by the Subtropical Convergence Zone. There are additional such gyres in the Atlantic.

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. Photo: Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. Photo: Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

The term patch isn’t really accurate. Floating shoes, bottles, toothbrushes, bags, fishing gear, Styrofoam containers, toys and other plastic debris breaks down into microplastics only a few millimeters in length so the patch is more of a soup. What’s more, only a small percentage of the debris floats at the surface with over 70% sinking to the bottom or hanging suspended somewhere in between. Some estimate the mass to be in excess of 30 billion pounds of trash, parts of it so small that it makes cleanup particularly difficult.

About 80% of the debris hails from North America and Asia with the rest coming from cargo ships and oil platforms that dump or lose plastic into the water. The single largest contributor is fishing nets that have gotten loose or been thrown away.

The devastation of marine life is alarming and is indiscriminate in its killing spree. Seabirds, fish and marine mammals are dying from starvation, poisoning or ruptured organs after they ingest or otherwise come in contact with this killer soup. The patch also blocks sunlight, interfering with the growth of algae and plankton that are at the base of the food chain.

The Ocean Clean Up

Ocean garbage patches present unique challenges for clean up efforts. Cleanup efforts using conventional methods could take 70 ships as much as one year to gather less than one percent of the debris while increasing the carbon footprint. Perhaps that’s why The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by 25-year-old Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat in 2013, has been showered with attention and media coverage as an innovative solution.

The Ocean Cleanup estimated ridding the Pacific of 50% of the patch within five years and 90% of all ocean plastic by 2040. Slat designed a tool to achieve his goals and in 2015 it was nominated for London Design Museum’s Design of the Year prize.

Slat’s organization raised $30 million and launched their tool. A 2,000-foot U-shaped tube floating on the water with a screen suspended below in the water column. The tube was designed to move with the wind and ocean currents and it would scoop the debris toward an artificial shoreline where it would be collected. However, problems arose when the original tube fractured. Subsequent issues included the tube not being able to contain the trash it collected and that the tube’s progress was outpaced by the trash it was designed to collect.

The summer of 2019 saw The Ocean Cleanup re-launching the tool with buoys designed to move with the wind and therefore speed up the progress of the tube. Additionally, they’ve integrated a sea anchor to work with natural ocean currents. Other changes have included reducing the size of the system to make it more manageable, and making it modular so changes and upgrades can be made on the fly and offshore. By continued enhancements, the organization hopes to dial in a working solution soon.

Critics of Slat’s system point out that capturing (and recycling) plastic before it reaches the ocean (like placing nets in Chinese rivers that empty into the ocean), would have greater effect because the problem is growing faster than any cleanup effort can possibly manage. They argue that the money raised could have been put toward more effective, although potentially less high tech, solutions.

Both sides are correct in their concerns for the planet but it will take a combination of cleaning up what is already out there as well as halting the growing contribution to the problem to help earth regain balance.

The Seabin V5 – Another Take on Cleaning Devices

Another autonomous mechanical cleaning device was developed by an Australian surfer in 2013. Tired, of surfing and swimming through plastic bottles and bags, Pete Ceglinski teamed up with fellow boat builder Andrew (Turtle) Turton to design and build the Seabin that could capture oil, plastic trash, fuel and detergents and even microplastics less than 2mm. In 2014, they leased an empty furniture restoration factory in Spain and launched their venture, which is now catching on around the world.

In the startup process, the duo used YouTube videos to learn to weld, sew catch bags and wire lights. From there, they put out a video that went viral and raised capital through crowd funding and grants. By 2018, they were shipping commercial units of the Seabin.

The device, which floats (rises and sinks) with the tide, is like an in-water vacuum cleaner. With 110/120V power, the Seabin measures roughly 1.5×1.5.5 feet. It uses a submersible 6,500 gph hour pump, which pulls surface water through a catch bag. Debris and floating fuel like diesel are caught in the bag and then the water is pumped back out. The Seabin can function within 20 feet of an electrical supply source and in water that is at least four feet deep but where the current is no more than four knots. The catch bags may be cleaned and reused.

By August 2019, nearly 800 units of the Seabin were installed in 50 countries. The units are for sale to marinas, waterfront facilities and lakes, and the fledgling company has an evolving dealer network. Seabin’s management team hopes to secure a foothold in North America soon to carry on with their mission of “pollution free oceans for future generations.”

Additional environmental efforts that are raising awareness of the need for clean water and habitat conservation
With numerous organizations fighting for clean water, there are many ways to get involved. Unlike The Ocean Cleanup, which relies on groundbreaking technology to produce change, other organizations focus on grass-roots efforts and need help with funding and involvement. Here are just a half dozen examples of global and regional efforts focused on the aquatic environment.

Earth Alliance and the LDF

A new philanthropic partnership is addressing climate change and environmental threats. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has joined Earth Alliance to stem biodiversity loss and protect ecosystems. Actor Leanardo DiCaprio, businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs and investor Brian Sheth co-chair the new partnership launched in Los Angeles in July 2019. The organization will be led by an independent management team made up of scientists and conservationists who will work globally to protect ecosystems and wildlife, support renewable energy, and secure indigenous rights to the benefit of all life on Earth. The 2-year-old LDF has provided over $100 million in grants to projects focused on all five oceans. The joint effort has become a powerhouse for climate justice and will partner with other nonprofits in their global efforts.

Captains for Clean Water

On a more regional level, Captains for Clean Water (CFCW) is an organization focused on water pollution in Florida. Nutrient-laden fresh water flows into estuaries via the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers bringing with it pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides which disrupt ecosystems. CFCW is working with farmers to reduce phosphorous and nitrogen loads that enter into the water supply and cause algae blooms in estuaries.

Tracts of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area need to be acquired to construct storm water treatment areas. The organization urges support in two ways: via donations and through activism and communication with elected government officials. Membership in CFCW is encouraged to build awareness of the problem and create pressure on governmental agencies to take action.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are huge contributors to our nation’s food supply as well as providing shipping lanes for cargo and plentiful recreation opportunities for boaters and anglers. However, sewage overflows and shipping pollution are endangering these magnificent fresh water resources. The Alliance for The Great Lakes is dedicated to conservation and restoration focusing on policy, education, and volunteerism. One of the initiatives has focused on invasive species control, which was introduced via the ballast tanks of cargo ships. They have undertaken studies on the growth and management of these species and their effect on indigenous marine species.

California Coastal Commission

Approaching five decades in existence, the California Coastal Commission was created by a voter initiative (Proposition 20) to “preserve, protect, and where possible, restore the resources of the coastal zone for the enjoyment of the current and succeeding generations.” The commission addresses issues such as public access, divisions of land, intensity of use and habitat preservation.

Water.org

Water.org is a merger between H2O Africa, co-founded by actor Matt Damon, and WaterPartners, co-founded by Gary White. One of their global programs, WaterCredit, uses micro loans to provide clean water and toilets to people in developing countries. For the past 25 years, Water.org has worked to end the cycle of poverty by providing people with time to manage their lives without expending excess energy just to secure clean water. There are dozens of clean drinking water initiatives for humans that work in small pockets around the world. There are also others that work with conservation and assistance to animals.

Mercury Marine Sustainability Program

Corporate responsibility initiatives often receive media attention but some of these efforts are more genuine and effective than others. In the marine industry, Wisconsin’s Mercury Marine is one company that has shored up its approach with their sustainability program. The company has reduced energy consumption and water usage at their manufacturing facilities and has increased recycling to reduce waste headed for the landfill. Their new engines are designed to consume less fuel during use, require less raw material in the build, and meet strict emissions standards. The organization sets annual goals and regularly reports on results. They promote best practices and fund preservation efforts of the natural places their customers use and enjoy.

Clean water and oceans, estuaries and lakes are vital to the survival of life on the planet. There are hundreds of organizations dedicated to addressing and solving some part of the problem and dozens of ways to become involved. It’s imperative to pay attention. Our survival depends on it.



Zuzana Prochazka
Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.