The off-shore crew of Ocean Cleanup discovered the damage to an end section on December 29, then had to wait for an appropriate weather window to connect the system to a tug boat and begin the trek back.
The Ocean Cleanup Workers on The Ocean Cleanup project deployed the high density polyethylene pipe and plastic skirt system in the Pacific Ocean late past year.
The first major snag came last month when we found out the system's massive boom wasn't actually holding onto all the plastic it was created to collect. Over the weekend, during a routine inspection, the Ocean Cleanup team learned that a 60-foot section of the device had broken free. A skirt about 10 feet deep was supposed to catch the plastic, but that also didn't go as planned. The entire structure will now have to be towed to the United States for repairs.
"We are, of course, quite bummed about this as 1) we hoped to stay out for a bit longer to collect more data on plastic-system interaction, and 2) it introduces an additional challenge to be solved", Boyan Slat, Ocean Cleanup's CEO, said in a blog post.
The Ocean Cleanup, the product of 24-year-old Slat's long-held aspirations, has become one of the flashier marine plastic projects in recent years; the United Nations. Crew members found that an end section of the cleanup's U-shaped boom had detached, Slat said on the nonprofit's site.
The company is investigating the cause of the break and believes the system will be back in operation this year. Miriam Goldstein, the director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress, said deploying a device of that size will create its own environment, and sea life will grow on it or underneath it. One of the possible problems is that the system is not moving fast enough.
Slat said he thinks they're close to making his system work. "The cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be operational in 2019", he said. The crew is looking at ways to speed the system and studying the effect of currents and waves on plastics' ability to enter the mouth for collection. "The fact that the cleanup system orients itself in the wind, is able to follow the waves well and is able to catch and concentrate plastic gives us confidence in the technology".