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A free-standing, waste-trapping floating dam could revolutionize ocean clean-up

Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo
The world’s oceans are home to millions of tons of plastic waste.
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In a few months, a giant floating dam—in the form of a 328-feet (100 meters) long barrier segment—will be set up in the North Sea, some miles off the coast of The Netherlands. Its ambition: to cleanse the world’s oceans of plastic trash forever.

Plastic waste is a major threat to animals in the sea, who either choke on the material or suffer from related contaminants. But most ocean waste projects try to collect plastic waste with boats that end up inadvertently endangering ocean life. The revolutionary new dam, scheduled for deployment in the second quarter of 2016, will instead use currents to round up waves of garbage—bags, bottles, and other waste—while also letting sea creatures through. Passive, safe collection is the idea.

“The main objective of the North Sea test is to monitor the effects of real-life sea conditions, with a focus on waves and currents. The motions of the barrier and the loads on the system will be monitored by cameras and sensors,” said Ocean Cleanup, the foundation behind the project, in a press release.

Courtesy of Ocean Cleanup

Ocean Cleanup’s engineering team has been experimenting with the floating barriers for a while now, carefully putting together computer simulations and scale models in small Dutch lakes. But this is the first time the barrier design will be put to test in open waters.

Provided that the North Sea project is successful, the foundation plans to install a much larger (100-kilometer, or 62-mile) floating barrier in the North Pacific in 2020. The V-shaped barrier will ideally scoop up waste to a central point where it can be collected for recycling—slowly chipping away at a pile of trash so large it has its own name and Wikipedia page.

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