Back in 1997, an environmentalist nightmare was discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Where one might hope to find tranquil waves and flourishing sea life, instead there’s now a brand new island. Though under normal circumstances that might sound like good news, it takes an unfortunate turn when you realize that this particular island is made completely out of plastic trash.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Bigger Than Texas

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located between California and Hawaii, where it remains stubbornly situated like an unwelcome 51st state. Though the patch may have once begun as a small collection of discarded plastic items from the fishing industry, it’s consistent growth has been healthy, to say the least. Researchers where horrified to discover that currently, it’s now about twice the size of the state of Texas.

Needless to say, the patch has become a huge issue for marine life and has caused the deaths of thousands of seals, dolphins, whales, and other sea life. Fortunately, this is where a 24-year-old Dutch inventor named Boyan Slat comes in.

The Young Man Who Decided To Take Out The Trash

Slat became enchanted by the idea of ridding the Ocean of plastic at the age of only 16. After going on a scuba trip in the Mediterranean where he saw more plastic than sea creatures, Slat decided it was time for action.

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Fortunately, the world was on the young inventor’s side. Back in 2017, nearly 200 countries signed a U.N. resolution aimed at eliminating the 8 million-plus tons of plastic being dumped into oceans annually. As Slat pointed out in a recent interview, though many corporations are attempting to switch to more eco-friendly products, the existing plastic isn’t going anywhere. “These garbage patches won’t go away by themselves,” Slat told Time, “Even if we were to close the tap today the plastic would still be there in 100 years.”

The Ocean Cleanup

That’s why Slat started The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious project that aims to clear the ocean of the massive amount of plastic currently infecting the ocean. “If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies,” The Ocean Cleanup stresses on their website.

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In order to get the ocean back on track, Slat and his team worked to create a $20 million cleanup system. The system will work like a giant Pac Man that combs the ocean, pulling in plastic pollution.

A Cleaner Future

The ship-pulled trash collector includes a large floating boom, called System 001, that curves into a giant U as it interacts with the ocean’s currents. Beneath the boom’s barriers, there are large screens that help collect debris below the surface. Slat stressed that the screens are solid rather than netted, in order to keep unsuspecting marine life from becoming entangled. Should they get caught inside the mouth of the “Pac Man,” Slat explains that they’ll have plenty of time to swim out due to the system’s incredibly slow speed.

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Though they’ve got their work cut out for them, The Ocean Cleanup has definitely shifted the conversation in the right direction. They hope to have 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch cleaned up in the next 5 years.