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Ocean Cleanup Initiatives and Their Impact

Ocean Cleanup Initiatives and Their Impact



Oceans are the largest ecosystem with a vast biodiversity on the planet Earth. They cover 70 percent of the surface area of our planet, and they play an important role in the ecological balance, providing food and a source of trading to far-off places. Ocean pollution can be defined as the introduction of uncontrolled and untreated harmful chemical liquids or solid waste into the oceans. In recent years, with the development of industries, the oceans have been used for disposing of industrial waste such as harmful water waste containing toxic chemicals, industrial and municipal solid waste containing plastic, agricultural waste, and waste contributed by oil spilling on a large scale in the oceans. Nonpoint resources are the major cause of ocean pollution, which results from runoff. This runoff carries a high percentage of pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural lands and chemicals, oil, and oily products from industrial areas directly into the oceans. This runoff deteriorates the quality of the water and disturbs the marine ecosystem by creating a nutrient imbalance, depleting oxygen in the water, and forming oil films that hinder the availability of sunlight to marine life in the depths of the oceans.

Almost 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year for different purposes, and over 14 million tons of this plastic are disposed of into the oceans each year, as reported by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). This plastic, under the influence of UV radiation from the sun, wind, and water currents, breaks down to form small-sized particles known as microplastics, which are so small in size that they can be easily ingested by marine species and cause problems not only in them but also in humans when they consume them. It is important to clean up the oceans and limit the disposal of these harmful and toxic pollutants into the oceans because they are the largest ecosystems on Earth. There are more than 242,000 marine species that are being documented until 2023, and more than 2322 new marine species are being studied and documented each year. Marine species such as fish, crabs, and seals are used as sources of food for humans, and the increasing pollution is a big concern for the survival of these marine species. Ocean cleanup is necessary to safeguard the integrity of marine biodiversity, to limit the harmful impacts of pollution, and to save the largest ecosystems on the planet.

There are several initiatives that are taken to preserve the integrity of oceans and marine life and prevent these ecosystems from getting into worse conditions. Some of the most important initiatives include The Ocean Cleanup, Clean Ocean Action, Gyres, Oceana, River Cleanup, Sea2See, etc. These initiatives aim to lower the pollution and waste that have been discarded into the oceans and to address the growing issues for marine life. They involve the use of modern technologies, such as floating barriers and autonomous vessels, that help collect and remove waste effectively from the oceans.


The magnitude of ocean pollution:


Ocean pollution is caused by the waste that is produced on the land, such as plastic, industrial waste, sewage, oil spills, toxic chemicals, and agricultural runoff. Plastic is one of the major contributors to ocean pollution, as it takes hundreds of years for its decomposition. According to the OSPAR Commission, 8 million pieces of plastic are disposed of into the ocean per day, and according to Eunomia, 12 million tons of plastic are disposed of into the ocean each year. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 80% of total marine waste is contributed by plastic. There are almost 50–75 trillion pieces of plastic that are present in the ocean. 70% of the pollutants in the form of waste and debris settle down in the oceans, 15% of the debris floats, and 15% accumulate on the beaches.

Chemical pollution involves the disposal of the harmful chemicals contributed by fertilizers, oils, detergents, industrial effluent, and sewage into the oceans. The chemical pollutants disposed into the oceans have increased by almost 12% from 2003 to 2022. Almost 1.1 million tons of oil were spilled into the oceans in the year 1990. Almost 60 million gallons of oil enter the ocean from oil-bearing rock layers, and oil tankers carrying oil accidentally add almost 37 million gallons of oil into the oceans per year. Meanwhile, human activities in the form of industrial waste and automobiles add 363 million gallons of oil into the oceans as a part of runoff and sewage. 38% of the water channels in the European Union are contaminated by agricultural waste, which contains high percentages of nitrates. These water channels, when they fall into the oceans, cause the contamination of marine biodiversity.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram


Impacts on marine life and ecosystems:

Ocean pollution is the major cause of the decline in the population of marine life; it also disturbs their life cycles and causes diseases in them. For example, when plastic breaks down, it forms microplastic particles, which are very small in size and, when ingested by marine animals, affect their body functions. High nitrate percentages contributed by agricultural waste cause eutrophication, which increases the growth of microorganisms in the water, causing the depletion of oxygen in the water, which is necessary for marine species. Oil films formed on the surface of water due to oil spills block sunlight from reaching the depths of the ocean and can disturb the photosynthesis of marine flora. Almost 800 marine species are being affected by water pollution in the oceans, 80% of which is plastic. Solid waste can cause the suffocation and death of marine animals, such as fish, turtles, and other marine mammals, when they get entangled in marine debris.

Water pollution is not only dangerous for marine life but also for human communities. For example, microplastic, when infested, becomes part of the fish body, and when these marine animals are consumed by humans, they cause endocrine disruption. Water pollution also causes the death of marine animals, and a large human population is dependent on the marine ecosystem for food and hunting as a profession. Almost 17% of marine species important to the food chain are on the red list of threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This could lead to economic losses and a shortage of food in the coming years. Heavy metals contributed by industrial waste in the aquatic environment can cause severe problems to the various human organs, such as the liver, kidney, lungs, and neurological systems, when consumed as part of the food from marine ecosystems.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram


Spotlight on Major Ocean Cleanup Initiatives:



The modern world is aware of the dangers of water pollution damaging the oceans and vast marine biodiversity. Different initiatives were taken to overcome the harmful impacts of ocean pollution, and The Ocean Cleanup, 4Oceans is one of the most prominent initiatives taken in this regard. The other initiatives involve Oceana, Surfrider Foundation, Seabin, Clean4Change, etc.

The Ocean Cleanup, an international non-profit organization founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat in 2013, enforces the use of technology to get rid of plastics in the oceans. They aim to remove 90% of the floating ocean plastic pollution. This is a solution to clean oceans by first concentrating the plastic, collecting it, and then effectively removing this waste. The Ocean Cleanup utilizes the technology known as 'interceptors', a solar-powered vessel system, to remove trash from rivers, as 80% of the plastic in the rivers becomes marine debris.

To clean a large area of waste, first an artificial coastline is created, and a speed difference is maintained between the cleaning system and the waste by active propulsion. A long, U-shaped barrier is used to guide the plastic and concentrate it in the circulating currents produced artificially. Then plastic is collected, captured, and removed to be recycled. Now the advanced system 03 (2.2 km) is being introduced in August 2023 by this organization, which is capable of cleaning an area equal to a football field in five seconds. The system 002 deployed in August 2021 by this organization has successfully removed about 100,000 kg of plastic from the world’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the total plastic removed in 2018 was 79,000,000 kg.

4Ocean is an initiative launched by Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper in 2017. This initiative aims to clean up ocean waste to overcome the ocean pollution crisis by cleaning ocean coastlines and educating people. The 4Ocean Pixie drone is a remote-controlled, fully autonomous electric drone that can collect floating waste (> 3mm in size) from the surface of the water. 4Ocean Collec’Thor is an electric skimmer that works automatically 24/7 to keep harbors free from waste like plastic and surface oils. 4Ocean BeBot is a robot developed by this organization to clean the beaches without damaging the ecosystem. 4ocean has removed almost 25 million pounds of trash from the oceans and coastal lines since it started working in 2017. They use the collected waste to make recyclable products; for example, a bracelet was introduced made from 100% plastic recovered from the oceans.  

Sustainability MindMap Diagram


Case Studies: Success Stories in Ocean Cleanup

Ocean Cleanup

Many ocean cleanup initiatives started their operations to reduce waste and its harmful impacts on the oceans, and some of them, such as the Ocean Cleanup Initiative, were a success. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a patch formed by the collection of plastic and other aquatic waste being formed in the North Pacific Ocean, divided into two large patches: one of them is the Western Garbage Patch (located near Japan), and the other is the Western Garbage Patch (located near Hawaii and California). The Ocean Cleanup Project aims to clean half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by the year 2025. This project has collected almost 108,625 kg of plastic waste from this garbage patch in a short time since its implementation in August 2021.

The ‘Mo Beach Puri clean-up’ initiative organized on the Puri beach (located in India) in the year 2019 was one of the greatest initiatives to remove waste from Puri’s shoreline. Thousands of volunteers took part in this initiative to ensure the cleanliness of this batch, and they cleaned up more than 100 km of the beach to make it free of plastic waste, paper waste, cloth pieces, and soft drink cans in only one day. This initiative is still working, and volunteers, students, and people from local communities still take part in the cleaning and sanitation of Puri Beach and other coastal lines. The Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Arukh, Bollywood actor Vidyut Jammwal, and internationally recognized artist and writer Nandita Das also participated in this initiative. The officials and participants gave their views on this project, and Vidyut Jammwal stated that:

“Puri is the pride of our country, and I am happy to be part of the world's mega clean-up drive here at the sea beach."


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

Analysis of the impact on Local ecosystems and Communities


Ocean clean-up Projects such as The Ocean Clean-up and 4Ocean have shown some success in achieving their goals of reducing the waste in the oceans and preserving marine biodiversity. These projects are working to remove plastic and other solid waste from the oceans in different countries and locations, which is necessary to improve the water quality. A reduced waste percentage helps marine species have a natural ecosystem and provides them with a healthy environment. Reduced plastic waste prevents the ingestion of plastic by marine animals, which causes contamination of the food chain and leaves harmful effects on its consumers. The increased population of marine species helps to achieve economic benefits, and an increased supply of food can help to overcome food shortages.


Challenges and Controversies:

Challenges and Controversies 

There are technological, financial, and logistical issues faced by projects that are working on the removal of ocean waste. Once plastic gets into the ocean, it becomes very difficult to remove it because it requires a high amount of funding to achieve these goals. For example, The Ocean Cleanup utilized almost $51 million for the removal of plastic from the oceans in 2020. These projects are highly time-consuming and require modern technologies that operate on expensive energy resources, such as fossil fuels.

There are technological issues, as they require high care and maintenance, and it becomes difficult to operate them because of tough and harsh marine conditions. The marine conditions are unpredictable, and they always slow down the efficiency of waste removal procedures. Logistic issues involve the maintenance of communication in the vast ocean clean-up operations, disposal, and storage of the collected waste. The use of present technologies for the concentration and removal of waste is inefficient; they can’t withstand the high pressure of water waves, and the trash gets mixed again in the water. These technologies are also harmful to marine life and cannot collect waste smaller than a specific size.

The ocean clean-up projects are not as fruitful as they claim to be. Some controversies classify these projects as inefficient because of their slow speed, impacts on marine life, and misleading information about waste removal. For example, vessel-based clean-up projects can’t remove marine debris in a hundred years because of their inefficiency. Environmental organizations and experts claim that the Ocean Cleanup initiative is causing harm to different marine species, such as sea turtles, sharks, and different varieties of fish. The Ocean Cleanup’s newly introduced technology, named Jenny, is powered by ships to make it work 365 days a year at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it could be a source of greenhouse gases because of the burning of fossil fuels. The misleading information is also a major cause of controversy. For example, The Ocean Cleanup claims to collect almost 9900–14900 kg of waste per week from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but the studies show that it is 3.7–5.5 times lower than the claimed statistics.

The organizations are responding to these controversies by adopting environment-friendly cleanup technologies with improved efficiency. For example, the Ocean Cleanup initiative has introduced a new technology named the Interceptor 002 system, a solar-powered waste cleaning system that can capture 50,000 kg of waste per day. Another non-profit organization named Clearblue Sea recently introduced a robot for removing waste from the ocean known as FRED (Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris). It is a solar-powered robot that floats on the surface of the water to collect marine debris. This robot is safe for marine life as it has an acoustic pinger sound to warn marine animals, and it will start working in 2024.

Category Subcategory Details
Challenges Technological High care and maintenance, inefficient in harsh marine conditions
Financial High funding required, The Ocean Cleanup's $51 million in 2020
Logistical Difficulties in waste disposal and storage, communication issues
Inefficiency claims Slow speed, impacts on marine life, misleading waste removal statistics
Environmental concerns Harm to marine species, greenhouse gas emissions from Jenny technology
Responses Adoption of eco-friendly tech  Interceptor 002 system, FRED robot introduction

The Role of Policy and Global Cooperation:


There is a dire need to make policies to bring about ocean sustainability, and global cooperation is necessary to implement these policies effectively and make them a success. Different policies were introduced by different countries to overcome the problem of solid waste in the oceans, which involved bans on single-use plastics such as plastic bags and microbeads. Some countries introduced policies such as taxes and fees on the use of plastic bags, such as Ireland in 2001, Belgium in 2007, and the UK in 2015. Similarly, container disposal legislation was introduced, which resulted in a 40% reduction of plastic containers in marine debris in the states where this legislation was implemented. A ban on the use of plastic bags was one of the important initiatives taken to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is disposed of in the oceans. Bangladesh was the first country to ban the use of plastic bags in 2002. In 2014, the Netherlands implemented a ban on the use of microbeads (small plastic particles) in cosmetics to reduce their contribution to plastic waste. The use of plastic waste in making roads has been experimented on in India in the early 2000s to reduce its burden on the water bodies.

In 2021, Maine, a state in the US, introduced a law that forces companies to take responsibility for their packaging waste. Styrofoam, a non-biodegradable plastic that is a major contributor to plastic waste, was banned by New York authorities in 1988. All these policies were implemented to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the oceans and minimize its harmful impact, as most plastic waste ends up in the oceans. The United Nations Environmental Assembly held a meeting on March 2, 2022. In Nairobi, Kenya, representatives from 173 countries agreed on the introduction and implementation of a treaty to control the plastic waste disposed of in the oceans. Governments and organizations all over the world should raise funds for ocean clean-up startups. International agreements and policies should be devised and implemented to limit the use of plastic and promote the use of sustainable and eco-friendly products. Industries and businesses should be accountable for their waste production and waste disposal techniques.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram


Future Directions and Technologies:


Future Direction


Modern technologies have revolutionized ocean clean-up techniques; they are more efficient and operate on renewable energy resources to minimize their impact on the environment. Wasteshark is a swimming robotic device designed by Richard Hardiman that was trailed by the Rotterdam Authority’s Port Waste Catch program in 2016. This robotic device can collect 1100 pounds of waste with the help of its mouth and then extract this waste to the shore for recycling. The Seabin Project V5 is just like a trash skimmer that can easily collect trash from rivers, ports, and other water bodies, which can help prevent the entry of plastic into the ocean. It can remove 3.9 kg of plastic per day and 1.4 tons of debris per year. Water gets filled into this bin and removed after the filtration to separate the trash and the plastic. Modern technologies have introduced the Clearbot Neo a sleek AI-enabled robotic boat that collects floating trash and helps reduce water pollution in the oceans. A bin is connected to this robotic boat, which collects the trash for recycling and other purposes.

These modern technologies aim to minimize the solid waste in the oceans and prevent marine biodiversity. The present ocean cleanup projects, such as the Ocean Cleanup Initiative, aim to remove 90% of plastic from the oceans by the year 2040 by implementing modern interceptor technology. These strategies are eco-friendly, and they also don’t harm marine biodiversity. It is very important to adopt these modern innovations to bring sustainability to the marine ecosystem and protect the integrity of the largest ecosystems on the planet. These innovations are helpful in the fast and effective removal of waste and promise more sustainable marine environments.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram




The oceans are the largest and one of the most important ecosystems on our planet. These ecosystems are in severe crisis due to the excessive use of plastic and its disposal in the oceans. Industrial and domestic waste in the form of runoff and sewage is damaging the quality of water and affecting the vast marine biodiversity. It is essential to take the initiative and introduce new policies to minimize water pollution. Ocean cleanup projects are playing an important role in removing marine debris to maximize the health of the oceans. It is our responsibility to support and be a part of these initiatives aimed at preserving the marine ecosystem. These projects are very important to bring stability to marine life, which is highly affected by water pollution.

It is our responsibility to bring out sustainability in marine ecosystems by adopting eco-friendly practices such as the use of biodegradable products instead of plastic, which is a major pollutant in ocean water. Minimizing the use of plastic, educating others about the harmful impacts of plastic and other waste materials, and cooperating with governmental policies can help bring a change to our water systems. Taking steps to minimize the carbon footprint and participating in ocean and beach cleanup initiatives can also help maintain a sustainable ecosystem.


Final thoughts on the future of ocean sustainability:


We produce more than 350 million tons of plastic each year and almost 8 million plastic pieces, as part of solid waste, are disposed of into the ocean per day and almost 12 million tons per year. Chemicals present in industrial and agricultural waste end up in the ocean and are toxic to marine life. If we keep on disposing of that much waste into the ocean, there will be more waste than the number of marine species in the ocean. The future of ocean sustainability depends on individual and societal cooperation to adopt innovative and eco-friendly technological advancements to reduce water pollution. There is a dire need to address the root causes of ocean pollution, such as increased plastic consumption and untreated disposal of industrial and domestic waste, to overcome this crisis. Educating societies and adopting green revolution practices are also key factors in bringing sustainability to water systems.




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