This article filled me with a mix of contradicting emotions. Of course I am a hundred percent behind increasing marine litter research, and I have always said that the problem with the problem is that we don’t have “boots on the ground”.
Science, in it’s most basic form, stems from observation, and if we cannot make observations of plastic on the high seas, how are we supposed to be able to answer questions, like where is it going, where is it coming from, how is it moving, and what are the biotic impacts. So I was excited to read about the 595 REV (Research Expedition Vessel) that endeavors to ply the ocean with a boat load of scientists, and all the toys money can buy, with a conscious attempt to minimize its carbon footprint (surprising from a man who’s fortune comes from offshore oil drilling. Perhaps there is hope for the world after all).
But I was concerned by the claim that the ship will be scooping 5 tons of plastic out of the ocean daily. Sure, one of the major blocks to cleaning up the ocean is money, but the other is that there is no safe way to collect that much plastic without impacting the environment. We can’t separate plankton from plastic, and cutting out huge swaths of ocean plankton could have devastating impacts on the ocean food web.
The ship will be managed by Norway’s WWF Chapter, but I could not find detailed research plans. Hopefully they will take into consideration the impacts of scooping up massive quantities of plastic before they sail out to save the seas, and end up inadvertently destroying them instead.