It started with a question: "I wondered, 'Why can’t we clean this up?'" Only rather than the dinner dishes or scattered toys, "this" was referring to the world's oceans and the vast quantities of plastic with which humanity has filled them. As al-Jazeera reports, 20-year-old Boyan Slat's answer to his own question is what he calls simply the Ocean Cleanup, a pilot project he's looking to get off the ground and into the water near Japan's Tsushima island next year. The idea is to deploy a mile-plus-long barrier moored to the seabed in an area rife with plastic—longer term, Slat aims to take on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, eventually cleaning half of it—and let ocean currents push trash to the barrier to be collected.
Notes Gizmodo: "These barriers aren’t nets—sea life gets tangled in those. They’re big, V-shaped buffers anchored by floating booms." And they work because most trash is found in the top six or seven feet of water, allowing critters to pass through below. "The reason we picked that location is because the current and wave conditions are very favorable for our tests, and there really is a lot of plastic," he says. So how is a 20-year-old Dutch kid going to pull this off? His crowdfunding effort pulled down $2 million, he's got a team of about 100 scientists helping develop the project, and he's attracting some high-profile buy-in from the likes of the mayors of Tsushima and Los Angeles, and even MTV, which calls him "a 20-year-old Captain Planet." Ahead of next year's pilot, the project will deploy 50 ships this summer to make a high-res map of plastic in the Pacific between Hawaii and California. (Here's one tragic example of why the project is important.)