A giant device meant to scoop plastic out of the Pacific Ocean has broken and is being towed back to land

The Ocean CleanupSystem 001 in action off the coast of California.
  • A giant garbage-collection device floating on the Pacific Ocean has broken.
  • The device, called “System 001” or “Wilson,” was launched in September by a nonprofit called The Ocean Cleanup.
  • It was designed to help remove plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of trash said to be twice the size of Texas.
  • But the nonprofit’s CEO, Boyan Slat, who invented the device, said on Monday that it had been damaged and must come back for repairs in California.
  • It’s the latest in a series of problems identified by the team since it launched the device, which some scientists have said might do more harm than good.

A giant ocean-cleaning device floating between Hawaii and California has broken and will be towed back to shore for repairs.

The device, called “System 001” or “Wilson,” was launched from San Francisco in September by the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup and is meant to clear plastic pollution from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of trash said to be twice the size of Texas.

But after making it 1,200 nautical miles to the patch, the device was found to be damaged enough that it has to be brought back for repairs, the CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, said on Monday.

Ocean CleanupThe Ocean CleanupSystem 001 is known as ‘Wilson’ by the team that runs it.

The device is a series of floating beams in the shape of a giant semicircle. Suspended under the beams is a huge net to collect plastic.

Here’s a promotional video of it in action:

Slat, 24, said in a statement on Monday that “due to a structural malfunctioning of the cleanup system, today we made the decision to return to port earlier than planned.”

Slat said an 18-meter section had broken off from the 600-meter-long device, as shown in this diagram:

Break ocean clenaupThe Ocean CleanupThe broken area is in the top left of the image.

System 001 launched to great fanfare in early September, and it was widely covered by news organisations around the world. Slat even won a United Nations “Champions of the Earth” award for his project in 2014.

While some praised the idea, several experts expressed concerns that it wouldn’t work or that it could do more harm than good by inadvertently trapping marine life in its nets as well.


Read more:
What the creators of the giant plastic-cleaning system headed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch say to critics who doubt them

System 001 had problems before the break was discovered.

In November, Slat said plastic was escaping from the device, possibly because it was moving too slowly. Slat later described a “stagnation effect” created by System 001 in which plastic was being pushed around the outside of the ring instead of collecting inside.

“This is a challenge we did not predict,” he said in an update on the nonprofit’s website.

Slat said on Monday that he hoped the device would eventually collect about 1 metric ton of garbage per week but that it hadn’t collected that much. He did not say how much in total it has collected.

The ocean cleanup plastic great pacific garbage patchThe Ocean CleanupTrash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Slat said he thought the problems could be solved and that System 001 would ultimately be able to fulfil its purpose.

“Although we would have liked to end the year on a more positive note, we believe these teething troubles are solvable, and the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be operational in 2019,” he said.

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