The sponge that collects oil; the cleaning robots at the bottom of the seas; and the “eighth continent” – let’s get to know how humanity saves the ocean and how each of us can help. Thanks to Rubryka for a thoughtful review.
It has been proven that even one day on the coast can recharge the “internal batteries” for the week ahead. The annual Medical Health Survey in the UK found that people living within 1 km of the ocean have better mental health than those living 50 km from the coastline. Moreover, they even feel more prosperous, socially significant, and self-confident.
But unfortunately, it is the seas and oceans of our planet that has perhaps the most significant number of problems. The human who is supported and treated by the sea kills it.
We’ll tell you what is wrong with the World Ocean and what solutions are already being used worldwide to save it.
What is wrong?
The ocean is the only balanced system whose protection and recovery mechanisms have worked well for millions of years, but in recent decades they have failed, and the ocean is just crying out for help.
The greatest threat to the seas and oceans is the consequences of human behavior, which leadsy to physical and chemical pollution of water and drastic climate change. As a result, ecosystems are disrupted, marine animals and birds die, and ultimately humans themselves suffer.
6 to 16 million tons of oil enter the sea annually. Sources of this type of pollution are drilling on the shelves, emergencies, discharge overboard by tankers of washing, and ballast water. Losses occur even in the accident-free operation of maritime transport. Almost 30 percent of petroleum products are brought to the sea by river waters, which contain oil in all its forms, and the surface of the world’s oceans was covered with oil film 40 years ago.
Victim of an oil spill
Only the lazy have not heard about the catastrophic level of water pollution by plastic. There are already about 150 million tons of plastic in the world’s oceans. According to environmentalists, this “landfill” annually replenishes from 8 to 12 million tons of non-decomposable garbage. Microplastic has already reached even the Arctic. Microscopic plastic particles (cosmetics ingredients, fabric fibers, and car tires) bypass treatment systems, enter rivers and then the seas and oceans. Almost 100% of seafood, which many of us love and consider a delicacy, contains this type of garbage. Eating an average portion of seafood, a person gets about one gram of microplastic. According to research, the amount of microplastic pollution in the oceans may be greater than the amount of zooplankton, which supports marine life and regulates climate.
Nuclear and chemical wastes are also a considerable danger. After the end of the First World War, the Entente countries faced the question of disposing of trophy stocks of German chemical weapons. It was decided to drown them in the sea. At the end of World War II, more than 20,000 tons of toxic substances were dumped off the coasts of Germany and Denmark. The consequences of this unreasonable decision are only to be raked by humanity because no matter how safe and strong the containers in which the waste is buried, there is always a danger of their depressurization, and the material of the containers is not eternal. Recently, 25,000 rusty DDT barrels were found in the Pacific Ocean. The investigation revealed that the ocean had been a landfill for industrial waste since the 1930s. The increase in cancer in sea lions is associated with this.
DDT barrel on the seabed, photo by David Valentine / University of California, Santa Barbara
Every year, plastic and other contaminants kill about 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, more than a million seabirds, and a vast number of fish, invertebrates, and other animals. It also harms the fishing and tourism industries, with annual losses of about $ 13 billion. In total, ocean plastic pollution costs the world $ 2.5 trillion a year!
If there are no drastic changes, then by 2040, the volume of plastic entering the ocean will triple – from the current 11 million tons to 29 million tons. This is equivalent to 50 kg of plastic for every meter of shoreline across the planet.
Climate change affects sea levels. Due to melting glaciers, primarily in Greenland and Antarctica, it has risen by 3.6 meters over the past 100 years. This phenomenon threatens to flood the coastlines on the continents, and some island countries (such as the Seychelles and the Maldives) may even go under the water forever.
Global warming reduces the nutritional value of plankton, the leading food for much marine fish and some mammals. This can eventually lead to their extinction. In addition, it affects another of the world’s most important ecosystems in the world’s oceans, which literally shields humanity from the tsunami – coral reefs, which could virtually disappear by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions increase. The fact is that the size and impact of tsunami waves are reduced by 31% due to healthy coral structures. This is stated in a study by the University of Sydney. Scientists have simulated the possible damage from the tsunami in the absence of such protection.
What are the solutions already?
In recent decades, the problems of global warming and pollution of the ocean by human waste have come to the fore. Still, despite significant international research efforts, people cannot significantly approach them. What did not seem like a big problem 40-50 years ago has become one of today’s main challenges.
All over the world, inventors seek to clean the world’s oceans from pollution.
The Dutch startup Ocean Cleanup, which installed a barrier to collect garbage in the Great Pacific Garbage Spot, presented a new device – Interceptor, designed to clean rivers from plastic waste. In 2015, the company surveyed more than 40,000 rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean and concluded that most ocean debris comes from rivers. And 20% of the garbage comes from rivers located in Asia.
Interceptor is a catamaran with a conveyor, which collects garbage in a special container. After that, plastic waste arrives on the conveyor. The system is 100% powered by solar energy, collects up to 50 tons of garbage per day, and is capable of operating in most of the world’s most polluting rivers.
Architect Lenka Petrakova from Slovakia (now working with Zaha Hadid Architects) has developed the “Eighth Continent” to protect the ocean from plastic. It is based on a floating station, which is a scientific and educational center with an ocean center for plastic processing. In addition to plastic processing, desalination and water purification will occur here, and its further use for growing plants in the greenhouse at the station.
A team from Northwestern University in the United States has developed a highly porous smart sponge that absorbs oil from water. It is proposed to be used to clean the seas and oceans. This sponge is more environmentally friendly than analogs and also cheaper in production. A “smart” reusable sponge can absorb an amount of oil that is 30 times its weight. Previously, sponges were created in which this figure is higher, but they lose to the new prototype in other respects.
The smart sponge absorbs oil and ignores water
Researchers believe that the smart sponge is an inexpensive and effective way to clean the sea surface from petroleum products without harming the ocean flora and fauna.
The Arctic Ice Project intends to save icebergs. Balls with a diameter of 35 micrometers made of silicon dioxide, which can reflect up to 90% of solar heat, have already been successfully tested on ice-covered lakes in the Sierra Nevada, Minnesota, and Alaska. Next in line is the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. Scientists hope that this will save humanity from a natural disaster caused by global warming: snow and ice are melting, replenishing the ocean, ocean waters, in turn, absorb a lot of heat, heat, even more, ice and so in a vicious circle.
In Hong Kong, molecular biologists modified the Pseudomonas aeruginosa genome to collect microplastic particles from water. The sticky biofilm formed by the accumulation of bacteria captures plastic particles. When a lot of them are collected, the film, together with the plastic, sinks and can no longer get into fish food or with the flow of water into the oceans.
Then the film is processed, and the microplastic is collected and reused.
In the future, this idea can be used in large treatment plants to prevent microplastics from entering the ocean.
And at the bottom of the seas, cleaners are already working. The system consists of four robotic machines: an air drone, two submarine remote-controlled robots (ROV), and an uncrewed vessel that will serve as a “mother ship.” Initially, the system will be deployed in coastal areas because it is in these places most of the underwater debris: it enters the sea through rivers. Special modules based on artificial intelligence will be built into the ROV. So the robot will be able to distinguish debris from marine animals, plants, and corals.
The SeaClear prototype has already been tested this spring at depths of 20 to 30 meters in the port of Hamburg and along the coast of Dubrovnik.
Scientists, well-known brands, and artists are also drawing public attention to the pollution of the seas and oceans.
Converse brand announced the opening of a virtual store in the Pacific. In this way, the company tried to draw attention to the problem of ocean pollution. In this virtual store, users can buy sneakers from the company, offering their own price and other unique things made using environmentally friendly ideas worldwide. Donations will be used to finance the cleaning of plastic debris from the ocean.
This summer, the ship of the PlasticOdyssey project will go on a circumnavigation. Equipped with small engines that do not pollute the environment, it will travel the world for three years, turning plastic waste into its own fuel for sailing worldwide. During the tests, Plastic Odyssey processed up to 5 kg of plastic per hour; the output was either 2 liters of gasoline or 3 liters of diesel fuel.
There is also a portable space on board for experiments and the training of locals during each stop. The project aims to cross the most polluted corners of the world’s oceans, including the coasts of Africa, South America, and Asia.
Architectural firm “STUDIOKCA” designed an 11-meter sculpture of a blue whale in Bruges. The material for the composition was 5 tons of plastic – waste found in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Photo: Matthias Desmet
A bloody dead mermaid appeared on the beach in the Gaza Strip. The work belongs to Dr. Khalil Al-Khaldi, who thus wants to point out the problem of pollution of the Mediterranean Sea. Photographer Said Awad took the shot,can operate.
As the Doctor states: “My idea is to draw attention to pollution due to excessive use of plastic and chemical industrial emissions. The sea dies because of the garbage that is thrown into it every day.”