The device deployed to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has broken and must be brought back to shore for repairs.
The 2,000-foot-long, U-shaped barrier was designed to corral the floating plastic debris that forms the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But after just a few days on the job, the device is headed back to port.
The device, dubbed Wilson, was designed by the young Dutch inventor Boylan Slat, who hopes to eventually deploy 60 cleanup contraptions as part of the Ocean Cleanup project.
With no motor, the giant boom-like device relies on winds and waves to move across the ocean surface. But while mobile, during its few days among the debris, Wilson failed to trap plastic.
While trying to troubleshoot the issue, Slat and his partners experienced another setback. The boom’s end segment, roughly 60 feet in length, broke off.
“If you have a paper clip and you move that back and forward many times, essentially the material gets weaker,” Slat told NPR’s Michel Martin. “That’s likely what has happened with material of the cleanup system.”
“We are, of course, quite bummed about this,” Slat wrote in an update on the Ocean Cleanup website.
But Slat told NBC News that he and his partners aren’t discouraged.
“This is an entirely new category of machine that is out there in extremely challenging conditions,” Slat said. “We always took into account that we might have to take it back and forth a few times. So it’s really not a significant departure from the original plan.”
According to Ocean Cleanup, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow and is now home to an estimated 160 million pounds of floating plastic refuge, encompassing an area of more than 600,000 square miles — nearly the size of Alaska.