Ocean Force One by Arjun Subramanian
Last Monday, Oct 3rd, Heirs To Our Oceans were invited to a closed press conference by the Ocean Cleanup team at Moffett Field in Mountain View CA. Eleven of us proudly attended. The purpose of this press conference was for Ocean Cleanup to share the initial impressions of the first flight by Aerial Expedition Team.
The Ocean Cleanup is an organization where the CEO, 22 year old Boyan Slat, has designed a passive system which uses ocean currents to concentrate plastic in the garbage patches. This design is still a prototype. The system uses ocean currents and a floating barrier to let plastic get concentrated on the top. Sea life can safely and soundly pass through the bottom. Boyan Slat is the youngest recipient of the UN’s highest environmental award.
Experts have estimated all the way from 10,000 tons to 10 million tons of plastic in all five gyres. But there is some uncertainty around this figure. The Ocean Cleanup launched the Mega Expedition last year which is the first in a series of two expeditions to try to calculate how much plastic there is in the gyres. The Mega Expedition used boats to map the amount of debris in the patch. The Aerial Expedition is the second part of this giant expedition, and aircraft will be used to map the trash. Two flights have been completed to date.
Our day began with a private Q&A session with Boyan where we asked him questions ranging from the profitability of this enterprise to fish eggs stuck on plastics to the size of the gyre to entanglement issues. Boyan answered all our questions and we got to experience what it’s like to talk with an awe-inspiring, youth activist entrepreneur.
Boyan explained how for the aerial expedition, the series of flights were conducted on Ocean Force One. Ocean Force One is a C130 Hercules Aircraft, which was repurposed for this expedition. In fact, this the very plane repurposed for such a positive use, was actually used in the Vietnam War to disrupt supply lines. In this expedition, it flew at low altitude and speed over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A team of 20 people were on the flights consisting of 3 teams: One team sat in the cockpit and two teams sat on either side of the aircraft to observe. There is a sensor called the LYDAR Sensor, which emits lasers on the ocean surface to make a 3-D model of the garbage patch.
Boyan said that they encountered more plastic than they expected, and that it was more dispersed than they thought it would be. Most of the count/number lay in the small pieces, but most of the mass lay in the large piece. The flight plan was cross-shaped, to cover latitude and longitude on the gyre.
After Boyan’s speech, we went on a tour of the airplane. Here I had a chance to talk further with Dr. Reisser, the lead oceanographer for this mission. We discussed about the impact on sea birds and marine life. I learned that seabirds have a tendency to think that anything that is floating on the top of the water is fish, and feed it to their chicks. Seabird chicks ingest plastic, making them think that they are full, while they are starving to death. I understood how their work would reduce this risk as well. Meanwhile some of my peers outside got interviewed by the press.
This experience was unique and inspiring to me, and it was a pleasure. I was honored to be at my first press conference, and we were blessed to have the opportunity to be invited by a global organization like the Ocean Cleanup.
I am hoping to get in touch with Dr. Reisser after her trip back home to Australia to learn more about more details from the Ocean cleanup expeditions.