Mon. Oct 21st, 2019

The largest plastic collection device in the ocean also catches essential species for marine life | Technology


Dutch foundation The Ocean Cleanup A gigantic net tied to a 600 meter floating tube runs over the water. its new technology aims to clean up to 1.6 million square kilometers in five years. After a first failed attempt, the foundation manages to remove part of the 80,000 tons of garbage (according to its estimate) that invade the waters of the Pacific. His long-awaited success has, however, been the subject of a controversy still latent in the media and on the networks since last week. The huge device not only collects waste but also tiny animals, particularly of the genus Velella Y Janthina, which live on the surface of the sea and are essential for the ecosystem.

Rebecca Helm, a biologist specializing in floating jellies and teacher at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, is very concerned about this massive cleaning system: "If in just two days they have taken 100 animals, what can happen in five years is very alarming," he tells this newspaper. In the photograph published by the foundation after its first success, one hundred tiny species, similar to purple snails and blue jellyfish, almost invisible are perceived among plastics. Helm has surrounded them all in a red circle and has shared his work on a Twitter thread with the following comment: "At the beginning of the year I warned that The Ocean Cleanup would capture and kill floating marine life."

Image posted by Rebecca Helm on Twitter to denounce The Ocean Cleanup system.


Image posted by Rebecca Helm on Twitter to denounce The Ocean Cleanup system.

These species expand over 50 million square kilometers and the work area of ​​the Dutch ship is only 500,000, that is, 1% of the mentioned surface, explains Boyan Slat, founder of the project, in an article on his website. The engineer therefore ensures that it is impossible for his device to destroy the fauna in question. Faced with evidence from last week, sources at The Ocean Cleanup acknowledge the problem, but maintain that the number of animals discovered corresponds to pre-mission calculations: “Although we are not happy that this occurred, we are not surprised the observations of these organisms in the accumulation of plastic and we still expect the impact to remain minimal, ”they state.

The health of the marine world

The Dutch team observers record many incidents of entanglement and interaction between the plastic floating in the patch (The Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and marine animals. The health of the neuston, that is, the set of microscopic organisms found on the surface, is the main motivation of the foundation. "We must clean up the environmental disaster and ensure that the ocean is as safe as possible for all biodiversity," said members of the organization.

The amount of plastic on the Pacific garbage island is equivalent to 250 wastes per inhabitant of the world

Many species depend on animals to the surface. If this system disappears, the entire marine chain is broken. Rebecca Helm uses a curious metaphor to explain the importance of these barely perceptible animals: it is as if the screws (pieces of neuston) of a plane (the sea) full of passengers (wildlife) in flight are gradually removed. "The plane would resist for a while but it would end up crashing and worst of all, the passengers would ignore the cause of the crash," he says.

As the neuston species reproduce very quickly, the foundation thinks it is impossible for them to disappear completely, explains Rebecca Helm who doesn't like this logic at all. The surface animal set is a nursery for multiple species of larvae and a hunting ground for octopuses. The sunfish, leatherback turtles and other living things frequent these floating islands because they are their source of food. "Cleaning 90% of the ocean's plastic will kill 90% of the neuston and devastate this ecosystem," he wrote in your warning article.

Garbage islands

The sea has become a landfill That seems infinite. The amount of plastics concentrated on the Pacific garbage island (a total of 1.8 billion pieces) corresponds to 250 wastes per inhabitant of the world, estimates the Dutch foundation. According to him World Economic Forum, with the current trajectory, the plastic could exceed the number of fish by 2050. The “passive” collection method in the style of The Ocean Cleanup does not convince everyone even if the efficiency of its engineering is recognized. Other agencies have lifted the anchor to combat the problem, including the Ocean Travel Institute based in Sausalito (California). On board a sailboat, the members of the association they have recovered 40 tons of garbage in 25 days In the pacific.

The team of the Institute of Ocean Travel orders the plastics collected.


The team of the Institute of Ocean Travel orders the plastics collected. OV's Institute

Its president Mary Crowley says they have never seen a live species among the rubble. "If it happened, our" manual "system would allow us to put the animal back into the water," he adds. Its organization only focuses on the affected area and not on the entire surface of the ocean. A football-sized device scattered across the sea and GPS trackers allow you to control the coveted path by these garbage hunters. The scientist explains that they mainly use their hands to pick up and if the waste weighs too much they turn to machines with hooks. "It is true that we have an urgent need to clean up the ocean but we also know the importance of these animals from the surface of the sea," he concludes.

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