Ocean Heroes: The Ocean Cleanup


Plastic and glass pollution litters a beach in Malaysia (credit: epSos.de/Wikimedia Commons).

The Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit, crowdfunded organization dedicated to removing plastic from garbage patches in the middle of the world’s oceans. These “gyres,” as they are called, are created by rotating currents in five different oceans.

Boyan Slat, a 20 year-old student at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands originally developed an idea for a passive technology called the Ocean Cleanup Array to capture and remove much of the surface plastic in the North Atlantic Gyre when he was just 16 years old. The design continued through his high school career and into his college days, when he decided to spend time away from school to focus solely on the idea.

He created The Ocean Cleanup based on the ideas that he presented in a TEDX talk in Delft, Netherlands. Immediately following the organization’s inception, he contacted companies looking for sponsorship, but was met with a brick wall. After months of attempting to find funding, it seemed like his dream of cleaning up the oceans was finished before it had even begun.

Then fate intervened.

His TedX video took off, going viral in a matter of days. Slat cleverly took advantage of his first big opportunity and set up a crowdfunding platform that made $80,000 in two weeks. He was receiving thousands of emails a day, and soon his seemingly bleak future turned into another success story of the budding crowdfunded community.

Today, he and his team of about 100 staff, scientists, and volunteers have competed against harsh criticism, finally emerging with a proof-of-concept and a feasibility study that silenced a majority of the naysayers. The only current road block for The Ocean Cleanup is finding the plastic and determining the best placement and setup for the array of floating barriers. As the young ocean conservationist puts it: “when you want to clean the oceans, it is important to know how much plastic is out there.”

he floating array would be attached to the seafloor so that the currents – which slowly rotate through the ocean – would concentrate plastic within the array, allowing for easy removal.

The Ocean Cleanup already completed one expedition to measure the concentration of plastics at different depths, and has announced another – to create “the first high-resolution map of plastic in the Pacific Ocean” – that will begin this August.

Slat’s innovative idea, combined with his persistent enthusiasm for such a worthy cause is both admirable and inspiring for future Ocean Heroes in his own generation.

Boyan Slat is our Ocean Hero.

A seal is caught in plastic pollution (Credit: Nels Israelson/Flickr).

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