Dreaming of a plastic free Ocean: Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup Project

Have you ever imagined a world free of pollution? A Planet where we no longer have to be concerned about climate change, and where nature thrives, bursting with diversity and abundance?

Boyan Slat sure did. This young man dreamed of cleaning up the world’s oceans when he was only a teenager, and he made his dream a reality years later, in 2018, when he created the world’s first ocean cleanup system.

Who is Boyan Slat?

Boyan Slat is a young Dutch man of Croatian ancestry, born in Deft, Netherlands. His magnificent story started when he was only 16 and came to face the plastic problem directly. It happened when he went scuba diving in Greece. He was shocked to see more plastic than fish in the water. After this event, he dug deep into the plastic pandemic, realising that no one had ever seriously attempted to reverse the issue. Why don’t we just clean the plastic up? he asked himself.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

This series of events led him to devote his high school project to understanding the dimensions of the plastic problem, and to challenge the idea that an ocean plastic cleanup would be impossible.

Slat first became famous in 2012 after proposing the construction of a large barrier which, as a giant rubble, would be able to collect large amounts of floating garbage - the goal was to collect mainly plastic - in seas and oceans all around the world. In February 2013, the now inventor and entrepreneur dropped out of the Aerospace Engineering career he was studying for at the time and officially started The Ocean Cleanup project.

The courage shown by Boyan and the originality of his proposal obtained the technical and financial support necessary for him to develop the first prototypes and put the initial tests into practice.

After four years of testing, trial and error and reconnaissance expeditions, in September 2018 Boyan’s invention was launched from the San Francisco Bay. Not very long after, The Ocean Cleanup system was deployed inside the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


How does the Ocean Cleanup work?

Source: The Ocean Cleanup 

As it is explained in the Ocean Cleanup Project, the device is made of a long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a skirt that hangs beneath it. The floater provides the ability for the entire system to float, while the skirt prevents waste from escaping underneath and leads it into the retention system. A cork line above the skirt prevents the raising of water above the barrier and keeps the skirt afloat.

This large scale method uses the natural oceanic currents and the impulse of the wind to passively concentrate and collect the plastic. The challenge is that plastic pollution spreads across millions of square kilometres and travels in all directions. For this exact reason, The Ocean Cleanup was designed to concentrate the plastic first, so that it can be effectively removed from the water afterwards.

What can we hope for?

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

It is suggested that through this process, the emptying of plastics from the ocean could be reduced from millennia to years.

According to the Ocean Cleanup team, the models that have been created reveal that a full-scale cleanup system roll-out could clean 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - the biggest garbage island in the Ocean - within only five years.

After devices are distributed and deployed into every ocean gyre, the team estimates the project will be able to remove 90 percent of ocean plastic by 2040.

After having collected its first batch of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2019, the Project has now transformed it into a usable product: a pair of sunglasses. With the proceeds of the sunglasses, the project keeps going.

Another huge milestone is the development of the Interceptor. After having developed the Ocean Project, the team is also working on going to the source of the plastic pollution: rivers. The team has developed what they call the Interceptor, with the goal to “close the tap” and prevent plastic pollution at its source. The goal of the Interceptor is to tackle the 1,000 most polluting rivers all over the world in five years from rollout.

So far, there have been three Interceptors deployed: number one in Cengkareng Drain, in Jakarta, Indonesia; number two in the Klang river, in Klang, Selangor, Malaysia; and number three in the Ozama river, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Boyan Slat is a great example of the greatness that we each have within and that when we believe and give energy to our dreams and yearns, we can go a long way and make a difference in the world. Here at CuriOcean, we believe we can all make an impact, so we encourage you to hold what you value close to your heart and fight to make it happen. Maybe one day you will become your own version of Boyan Slat.



By Belen Blanco