Back in June we looked at Ocean Cleanup’s announcement of the first ocean trials of its crowd-funded trash clearing boom. That trial has run into trouble and the team is having to haul the barrier back to shore after it was bent out of shape.
Aerial photographs from August 2016 show the prototype on in choppy sea
Boyan Slat, Ocean Cleanup’s charismatic founder, had predicted a 30% chance the boom could break when the project launched. While the boom was able to survive for two months against large waves and winds of up to 45 knots a recent inspection showed damage to two air chambers. Both had been bent out of shape and no longer conformed to the curved u-shape the barrier must maintain to collect ocean debris.
The company used underwater camera footage to identify a failed shackle that connected the boom to the mooring system as the cause. Initially they had planned to simply monitor the condition of the shackle but the problem escalated to the point where they were forced to return the boom to shore to conduct repairs.
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In a statement, Ocean Cleanup said that they understood “why the damage occurred, and more importantly […] how to fix it”. They went on to explain that “based on the lessons [they had] learned from these first two months of testing [they would] now implement several design improvements to the boom, before reinstalling it at [their] North Sea test site in the near future” and that they would “continue to go through these iteration cycles until [they were] confident the barrier design is capable of lasting in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for years.”
Weather in August was far rougher than expected and the boom has already been subjected to weather systems worse than the once-in-a-100-year storms in the Pacific Ocean they had initially planned for.
The good news is that that the boom remains in a generally reasonable condition and that, although a setback, it is far better for the company was able to identify these types of problems when the boom is still in the prototype phase at a small scale only 10 miles offshore, rather existing as a much larger structure 1000 miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean.
Ocean Cleanup said they still expect to be able to achieve the goal of “multi-year survivability” for its boom.