Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Ocean Clean Up Project

At the ripe, young age of 16, Boyan Slat was inspired to take on huge task - ridding the oceans of all plastic. He was inspired to do when on a trip to Greece and "saw more plastic bags than fish" when he looked out into the sea. It was this moment that he decided that something needed to be done. When discussing the issue with others, everyone told him that it was not possible to extract plastic from the ocean once it gets there. He went on to study the issue for over 6 months and used it as the topic for his high school science project. His dedication to the issue didn't stop there, he continued to research and develop a solution with the help of experts in the industry and professors. 

To further understand what Slat was trying to achieve, we need some background on the issue. In a nutshell, there are 8 million tons of plastic that find their way into the ocean every year. All of this plastic collects in places called convergence zones, or gyres. These zones exist due to the ocean currents that push all of the plastic into giant deposits. There are currently 5 major convergence zones on earth: two in the Pacific Ocean, two in the Atlantic ocean and one in the Indian Ocean.

The plastic that accumulates in the ocean has many disastrous effects on the plant and all of its life. Many oceanic creatures are killed every year due to the debris, whether it is via strangulation or ingestion. The plastics also cause harm to humans by releasing toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDTs into the water when is then absorbed by fish that are consumed as food. The economic impacts are also apparent. Coastal areas spend extraordinary amounts of money to clean up beaches, fishing and shipping areas. 

To find a solution, Slat studied many concepts of ocean cleanup in order to find what didn't work. Most systems he read about were extremely expensive, time consuming, and even increased emissions. He used these concepts to develop his breakthrough system of the Ocean Cleanup Array. Based on his knowledge of the ocean currents, he came up with "a passive system of floating barriers that is attached to the seabed, and oriented in a V-shape. The barriers first catch, and then concentrate the plastic, enabling a platform to efficiently extract the plastic once it arrives in the center of the V."


When he first introduced this idea in his Ted Talk, he faced some criticism. There was a lot of speculation on whether or not his system would be successful since there had been numerous clean up proposals in the past. Once his idea went viral, it received attention from people all over the world. He started a raise funds and was able to build a large team of engineers, oceanographers, and other volunteers to help him bring his dream to reality. Now after four years, his team has run numerous trials in areas such as the Azores to determine the feasibility of his system. For the past few years they have been preparing for execution. They hope to officially begin clean up in 2020.

Gardner describes a creative person as someone who "regularly solves problems, fashions products, or defines new questions in a domain in a way that is initially considered novel but that ultimately becomes accepted in a particular cultural setting" (Gardner 33). Here we see that the problem is plastic pollution in oceans and Slat has designed a product to solve that problem.  He created his system by studying other previous proposals to figure out what not to do. This approach to developing his system is an example of divergent thinking. He researched for a very long time until he finally figured out the key to his system. As stated in Creativity, Intelligence and Personality  by Frank Barron and David M. Harrington "The aha! comes when the process reaches a conclusion"(Barron and Harrington 443). Slat's aha! moment came when he  "wondered; why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?". 

Right now, the idea is still novel. The system is still in the developmental stages and there is still criticism and speculation, something that all inventors and creatives face. Along with the negative reactions, there are also many positive ones. Slat has gained much support from people, receiving millions in donations and many volunteers. Hopefully, his new invention becomes accepted in our world as the most efficient and best way to clean up the oceans. When his system becomes the norm, we can all rest easier knowing that there is one less environmental issue to face.

Works cited:
Creating Minds by H. Gardner (1993)
CREATIVITY, INTELLIGENCE, AND PERSONALITY  by F. Barron and D. Harrington (1981)


  1. This is a great post and a great subject. Early this week I had been doing some reading on Slat and his idea and was astonished at the simplicity and originality of his concept. And I cannot believe no one up to now had thought to use the natural flow to collect pollution in a much more effective way. Furthermore, from a practical standpoint, this idea is brilliant. Compared to other projects and ideas to clean up the oceans, his concept has the ability to fix the problem in a fraction of the time. Thank you for posting!

  2. This is an amazing idea from someone so young. What makes his idea great is the potential that it has to make money and save the environment at the same time. Most people believe that environmental protection costs too much, but this idea shows us that you can find a better way to do anything and profit from it. It also would clean much faster than any current ways of cleaning the ocean. This is important because investors need to see results, and 79,000 years is too long to have any immediate impact.

  3. Wow, what an innovative idea! Slat's project definitely has great potential. I found it especially interesting that you considered Gardner's observation that a creative "defines new questions in a domain in a way that is initially considered novel but that ultimately becomes accepted in a particular cultural setting." This "particular cultural setting" must hard to define for Slat, which is why many critics could be opposed to his idea. But hopefully as his discovery gains more prominence, it will become the norm - as so many new ideas do.

  4. I posted on the Seabin, which is also geared to cleaning up garbage and debris in the ocean, but it does so on a much smaller scale than this project. I think this is amazing and I'm hoping that they do get this up and running. Like you said so many ideas would increase emissions and pollution, it's great to see an idea that is effective in both reducing ocean garbage and reducing pollution.


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