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Meet the young inventor helping to clean up the oceans


So much of our world is plastic — it’s everywhere you look! We use it in our everyday lives when we use plastic bottles, straws, utensils, and plastic shopping bags. Although it is cheap to make, the problem is that plastic never goes away. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade (meaning it never fully breaks down in the environment over time) and a lot of it sadly it ends up in our oceans. There is an estimate that if we keep using plastic the same way we have been, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by the year 2050! Luckily there are people working very hard to try to fix this problem. In honour of World Oceans Day on June 8, let’s check out how this young inventor is making it his mission to save the oceans through his company, The Ocean Cleanup.

What is it?

Diagram showing the ocean's currents and the garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean.
This is a map that shows The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a collection of ocean debris and garbage that is moved to two areas by the ocean currents. By NOAA/Wikimedia/Public Domain

The Ocean Cleanup is an organization founded in 2013. Their goal is to remove up to half of all the plastic that has gathered in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (an area of the northern Pacific Ocean where the ocean currents collect all of the trash into one concentrated area) in the next 10 years. The patch is very large and filled with very small plastic particles that are hard to see but easily swallowed by sea creatures like fish, turtles, dolphins and whales. The plastic in the water is very dangerous and unhealthy for all aquatic life.

Who came up with it?

Boyan Slat stands in front of the Ocean Cleanup sign.
Dutch environmental activist and innovator Boyan Slat unveils the prototype of The Ocean Cleanup project in Scheveningen, Holland on June 22, 2016. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ocean Cleanup was founded by Boyan Slat, who was only 17 at the time! In 2013, Boyan came up with an idea that would help remove plastics and other garbage from the oceans quickly, and for less money than it usually costs. Today, his idea has grown into a real organization that has performed a lot of research and tests and is ready to launch their first working project later this year!

How does it work?

Ocean prototype by the Ocean Clean-up.
The prototype (pictured above) will be tested in the North Sea in 2020. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Boyan’s idea was to use the ocean’s predictable currents to bring the plastic and other garbage to their collection stations instead of using ships and nets to chase it down. As the ocean moves, carefully positioned screens catch the plastics and other trash. These stations will be set up way out in the middle of the garbage patch in the northern Pacific and the deep screens will catch the plastic while still letting sea life swim under it without being disturbed!

Why is it important?

Plastic garbage found in the ocean.
Plastic garbage is displayed prior to a press conference of the Ocean Cleanup foundation in Utrecht, Netherlands, Thursday, May 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Sea creatures sometimes mistake plastic in the ocean for food and then eat it and get sick. Boyan and his team are doing some very impressive and important work. The faster we can remove the plastic and garbage from the ocean, the more fish, turtles, dolphins and whales we can save! And the healthier the oceans will be for all of us.

How can you help?

Reusable bag at grocery check-out line.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

You can help by trying to use less plastic: use glass, metal or bamboo straws; say no to plastic bags and opt for reusable fabric grocery bags instead. Avoid plastic water bottles by using refillable water bottles when possible. Every little bit helps!