There is no shortage of stories on the Pacific garbage patch and the issues associated with plastic pollution in our oceans. Net tows in the 1970’s foretold the accumulation of ocean garbage patches. So how do we solve this problem?
The Mega Expedition manta net used to assess plastic particles in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
The best way is prevention. Take responsibility for where your trash ends up, and reduce your use of unnecessary plastic products (straws, water bottles and grocery bags). Directly removing plastic debris from the ocean is also an ideal solution. However, finding and funding techniques to remove trash from the ocean can seem like an impossible feat when accounting for the physical characteristics of the ocean and the price of expeditions. Despite the challenges of cleaning our oceans, Boyan Slat didn’t back down. He created the largest expedition in history, The Mega Expedition, to gauge plastic particles across the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
Boyan Slat is a young entrepreneur and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. In 2014, he was crowned the Champion of the Earth by the United Nations. The mission of his non-profit is to “fuel the world’s fight against oceanic plastic pollution by initiating the largest cleanup in history.” For the first field phase of The Ocean Cleanup, Slat enlisted help from sailboats participating in the Transpacific Sailboat race (Transpac), along with other boats willing to cross between California and Hawaii.
Participants performed visual surveys for large trash, towed for small plastic fragments (microplastics), and recorded weather conditions. To conduct tows, each boat was outfitted with a surface net, called a manta net. Surface water samples funneled through the rectangular mouth of the manta net down to a tapered collection end, where microplastics were typically found speckled amongst plankton.
Although The Mega Expedition intended to have each boat to conduct a set amount of tows, the ocean had its own plans. Four hurricanes trekked across the Pacific during the expedition, forcing some boats to race for safe harbor. Thankfully, all participants survived the sea, but returned with laundry baskets, fans, and other artifacts acquired from the gyre. The story of plastic pollution far from over, how will you help make it history?