It may be a bit unkind to crush the ambitions of a 19 year old, but Boyan Slat seems to mainly excel at self-promotion. He’s come up with a scheme to clean up the oceans of debris with anchored, floating booms and short suspended nets (or something — it’s totally unclear) that are laid out over ocean currents that bring the garbage to it. Did I mention that he’s 19? And not an oceanographer? And that his scheme hasn’t really been tested on any significant scale? But it’s still bringing in millions of dollars in donations.
Why, this sounds like a case where real ocean scientists might have some input. Kim Martini and Miriam Goldstein have a few words about it — it’s unrealistic and poorly described.
One thing they don’t mention: cleaning up the wretched mess we’ve made sounds like a good idea, but this isn’t like setting aside some time on Sunday morning to tidy up after the wild weekend party. This party is still ongoing — we continue to dump massive quantities of non-biodegradable plastics and generic garbage int the ocean. Shouldn’t the first effort at reducing the problem be focused on ending the permanent state of pollution production? Boyan’s plan is too much like slapping a band-aid on a spurting wound.
Also, I thought it was a joke: Martini makes a brief note about “Zero bycatch by net avoidance”. But it turns out that’s actually on Boyan’s web site — he punts on the issue of whether their massive booms straddling major ocean currents might have a detrimental effect on ocean life by simply declaring that marine organisms will avoid it. Really?
It just goes to show that easy hypothetical technological fixes will always appeal more than difficult social changes — changes that will affect major companies short-term bottom line.
(By the way, I haven’t tested whether space-based lasers are an effective way of destroying marine garbage, but I’d like a few million dollars to test the idea.)