This 22-Year-Old Will Save The Ocean

There are 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, and this guy wants to get rid of them all.

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As we embark on the new year, we're sharing a series of stories about the artists, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs and more who are poised to do big things in 2017.

"Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?"

This poetic question, posed by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat during the pivotal 2012 TED Talk he gave when was just 18 years old, is fueling what could very well become the most important environmental project of our time.

So. Much. Plastic.
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Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year, 8–9 million tons find their way into the oceans. With his organization (aptly named The Ocean Cleanup), Slat is looking to solve our plastic pollution problem—and fast.

The Ocean Cleanup's research team spent a lot of 2016 testing out various models of their barriers.

Here's how they figure out what works and what doesn't.Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, has said it would take about 79,000 years to remove the plastic that makes up the Pacific Garbage Patch, just one of five massive garbage patches floating in our oceans. But Slat's looking to move at a much faster clip, with an innovative approach that he thinks will cut the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in half in 10 years. The need for an expedited timeline grows increasingly more urgent, because the longer we allow plastic to sit in the ocean, the more of it will break down into microscopic pieces and enter our food chain via the fish who end up ingesting it.

The Ocean Cleanup is currently testing out a prototype barrier in the North Sea. If all goes as planned, they'll be installing one 62 miles long in the Pacific by 2020.
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So how is Slat going to solve this problem? Well, the distinctive element to his approach is the notion that the ocean's currents, once considered to be an obstacle in this effort, are actually the key to its solution. Slat's system uses barriers that he secures to the ocean floor, allowing the currents to push the plastic into them, and thus enabling the ocean to, effectively, "clean itself," as he's put it.

An aerial view of Slat's cleaning system, which aims to harness the power of ocean currents to corral the plastic currently overtaking our oceans.

The Ocean Cleanup unveiled its first barrier prototype this past June, and is currently testing it in the North Sea. There's still a long way to go, in terms of continued research and testing, but with an inventive optimist like Slat at the helm, we're hopeful that The Ocean Cleanup will be able to realize its goals.

As Slat outlined in his viral TED Talk: "Once, there was a Stone Age, a Bronze Age...and now we're in the middle of the Plastic Age." If the Ocean Cleanup has its way, they'll have a 62-mile barrier installed in the Pacific by 2020, and we'll be well on our way to bringing our oceans back to their pre-Plastic Age state of cleanliness.

These people are dedicating their lives to cleaning up our oceans. Here's to them having a successful 2017!

For more on the work The Ocean Cleanup is doing, see theoceancleanup.com.

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