North Sea Prototype ready for installation in the North Sea.

Removal of plastic

The Ocean Cleanup is developing a method to remove plastic from the oceans.  Using floating screens, plastic is stopped and gathered.  Since the start of the initiative in 2013, a number of studies have taken place to improve the design of the plastic screens. This lead to a 100 metre wide prototype of the screen. In the summer of 2016, the durability and logistical use of this prototype will be tested of the Dutch coast.  A follow up study of the coast of Japan will see the next stage of the development take place, actually catching plastic.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The purpose of catching plastic is to avoid marine life being harmed.  However, the prototype itself may have adverse impacts on the environment as well.  The marine ecologists at Royal HaskoningDHV have therefore assessed the impacts of the prototype on marine life.  The assessment considered if chemicals are released from, and if marine life will be impacted by the floating screens and anchors.  Receptors assessed included marine mammals, birds and fish.  This impact assessment was undertaken in the form of a so called “quick scan”.  Impacts were assessed taking European Union and Dutch environmental legislation in to consideration.

No impacts on marine life

The impact assessment conducted in the “quick scan” concluded that no major adverse impacts are likely on marine life and the seabed. Impacts of disturbance by vessels and anchors are minimal considering the placement of the prototype in an area already highly disturbed by human activities, the small physical size of the prototype and the temporary nature of its placement.

The ecotoxicological screening concluded that it is highly unlikely that the screen will release chemicals in to the marine environment.  Considering this, the temporary nature and small scale of the development, impacts are anticipated to be negligible at worst.  Whilst in operation, the project will be carefully monitored to observe any impacts that were not anticipated from this innovative system. 

Plastic soup

The placement of the prototype is a first step on the way to the removal of plastic from the ocean.  This is necessary as marine life is being adversely impacted by plastics.  In January 2016, 29 sperm whales washed up on the North Sea coast.  Their stomachs contained an alarming amount of plastic.  This included both large pieces, that could block their intestines, and very small pieces that may cause chronic problems.  The presence of plastic also presents similar problems for birds and fish.

By continuing the development of the current prototype the aim of the project is to remove as much plastic from the oceans as possible. This will help to improve the health of marine ecosystems.  Obviously, the removal of plastic goes hand in hand with ensuring that plastic does not continue to find its way in to the oceans.