OCEANS
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Once there was a Stone Age, a Bronze Age
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and now we are in the middle of the Plastic Age.
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Because every year we produce about 300,000,000 tons of plastic
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and fraction of that enters rivers, water ways and eventually the oceans.
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If you want to eat a biscuit nowadays
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we have to buy a biscuit within a plastic wrapper,
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within a plastic tray, within a cardboard box,
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within a plastic foil, within a plastic bag.
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It's not hazardous nuclear waste -- it's a biscuit.
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And this is me. I love diving
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just taking you through my holiday slides here.
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This is at the pristine Azores Islands and this is how their beaches look.
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Covered with plastic fragments.
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Due to sun and waves over the years
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the garbage breaks down into ever smaller pieces, but remains plastic.
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And, well interestingly, you don't see a lot of red particles in here
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because those look like food
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to birds more than any other color.
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So this is the result.
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And well, the debris primarily collects at these 5 rotating currents
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called the gyres, where it doesn't only directly kills sea life,
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but due to the absorption of PCBs and DDTs, also poisons the food chain.
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A food chain that includes us -- humans.
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And while diving in Greece
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I came across more plastic bags than fish
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and astounded by the depressing sights
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my Scottish dive buddy turned to me and said,
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"A lot of jellyfish is here, dear. Seen about a thousand."
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There were no jellyfish.
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I won't talk about environmental issues in general.
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I think the common response is, well that's a long way off.
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That's for our children to worry about.
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So hello, here I am.
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Why don't we just clean it up?
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There are a multiple reasons why
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current plastic pollution researchers believe we should focus on prevention,
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for example through education, rather than attempting a cleanup operation.
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Because we would need to deal with 5 colossal areas -- each moving around.
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Plastic sizes ranging from these massive ghost nets to molecules -- bycatches and emissions.
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Furthermore we would need to get all the plastic back to land.
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It would need to be financially realistic and
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in fact the total amount of plastic within the gyres [is] unknown.
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But about a year ago, when I was on my way to the hairdresser's
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and I must admit I don't go there often but I had this little epiphany.
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I saw even old people throwing rubbish in the water
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and I thought, well some people will just never learn, will they?
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We'll need the combination of both roads
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and we'll need them soon.
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So then I simply used this list of concerns
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as challenges, and in fact a week later as a school assignment,
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I had a chance to spend a lot of time
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on a subject of choice together with a friend of mine.
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And this gave me the perfect opportunity
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to do new and fundamental research regarding plastic pollution.
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I then went on a holiday to Greece taking this manta trawl with me,
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which is the common device for sampling plastic,
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and so I had to leave home all my clothes
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due to low cost airlines weight limit policies.
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Well, the trawl we built, however, is 15 times finer
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than the regular one. And what we discovered was
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that the count of those minute particles is in fact 40 times higher
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than the larger particles. So we have to take these small plastics out,
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but then we wouldn't want to take the important plankton out as well.
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Luckily these could simply be separated using centrifugal forces.
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However, nobody knew how much G forces common zoo-plankton could survive.
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So we took the trawl out again, and we didn't have a boat,
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so and we tested it, and in fact they can survive over 50 Gs, which is more than enough
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for successful separation.
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And then in order to know up to which depth the ocean surface should be cleaned,
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we designed and built something that I call the multilevel trawl.
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We basically stuck ten trawls on top of each other.
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Here you can see us testing that on the North Sea,
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I thought it was a great day -- I was the only one who didn't get sick
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but then the so perfectly working trawl broke and
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of course we didn't quit there, because I believe you can't clean up something
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you don't know the size of.
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I've heard the estimations ranging from several hundred thousand tons
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all the way to a hundred million tons.
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I knew we really need a better estimate -- some scientific data.
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So then I simply contacted some professors from the universities
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Delft, Utrecht and Hawaii -- who then actually helped us in determining
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how much plastic there is in the top layers of the gyres.
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The result -- a whopping 7.25 million tons of extractable plastic in 2020.
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That's the weight of 1,000 Eiffel towers floating in the gyres.
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Now, researcher and effect discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Charles Moore
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estimates it would take 79,000 years to remediate that.
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However, I believe the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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can completely clean itself in just 5 years.
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And that is a difference of 78,995 years.
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Well, of course, this is the conventional idea of extracting litter,
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so you have a vessel and a net fishing for plastic.
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Of course multiple vessels could be used to cover a larger area,
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but by spanning booms between those vessels,
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suddenly a much larger area would be covered,
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because the essence is not to catch the debris, but divert it.
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Because there is no mesh size, we can even get out the smallest particles,
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and since all organisms can simply move under the booms,
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we'll be able to eliminate bycatches by 99.98%.
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But, if we want to do something different
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shouldn't we also have to think differently.
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For example then: the absorption of PCBs by plastic is not such a bad thing,
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it's a good thing.
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Get all the plastic out and simultaneously remove tons and tons
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of persistent organic pollutants from the marine environment.
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But how would we minimize environmental, financial and transportation cost then?
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Let's use our enemy to our advantage, OK?
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The oceanic currents moving around is not an obstacle -- it's a solution.
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Why move through the oceans if the oceans can move through you?
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By fixing the "ships" to the seabed and letting the rotating currents
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do their work -- vast amounts of funds, manpower and emissions will be saved.
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The platforms will, of course, be completely self-supportive
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receiving their energy from sun, currents and waves.
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And inspired by my diving at the Azores, It now actually seems
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that the best shape for these platforms is that of a Manta Ray,
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by letting its wings sway like a real manta,
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we can assure contact of the inlet with the surface
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even in the roughest weather.
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Well, imagine a zigzag array of just 24 of these platforms cleaning an entire ocean.
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Let's make a comparison, OK?
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These are the beaches of Hong Kong, earlier this year.
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The largest plastic spill in history. And this is their source,
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just 6 containers.
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How much could we get out?
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Over 55 of these containers per day.
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Not only is plastic directly responsible for over a billion USD in vessel damages a year,
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no, the awesome surprise for me was that
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if we sell the plastics retrieved from the 5 gyres we'd make over $500,000,000
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and this is in fact more than the plan would cost to execute.
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In other words -- it's profitable.
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But I believe that the key thing is that
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only if we realize change is more important than money, money will come.
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And yes, it will be one of the largest environmental rescue operations yet, but we created this mess.
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Heck, we even invented this new material first before we made this mess,
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so please don't tell me we can't clean this up together.
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Thank you very much.

 

 
 
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