A shot of the Ocean Cleanup prototype.

5 out-there inventions to clean the world’s oceans

© Ocean Cleanup

The world’s oceans are currently awash with man-made waste – here are some of the brilliantly innovative solutions that can help to solve the problem.

They say children are the future, but one pre-teen in particular is saving the world’s oceans right now – with her own robot submarine vacuum cleaner.
She’s leading a new wave of innovations designed to tackle the problem of ocean littering: plastic and man-made waste is having an increasingly large impact on the environment, affecting millions of fish, birds and other ocean-living animals on a daily basis.
As the issue worsens, we look at the tech concepts designed to save our seas and clean up our oceans from 12-year-old Anna Du’s ingenious underwater rover to the deceptively simple Seabin and more.

Anna Du’s microplastic removing rover

Every now and again somebody comes along and truly surprises us, and that’s definitely the case with 12-year-old Anna Du. The innovative sixth-grader decided that something needed to be done about the 5 trillion pieces of plastic that currently litter our oceans, so she designed her very own underwater rover, capable of hunting for and recognising microplastics by taking advantage of infrared technology. Du’s invention has seen her become a finalist in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, with the chance of winning $25,000 and a mentorship with 3M. Fingers crossed she goes on to win, and that it’s only a matter of time before we see Du’s technology move to the next level and actually start cleaning the oceans.

The Seabin Project

The Seabin Project does almost exactly what it suggests on the tin, putting floating rubbish bins into the water to filter out rubbish. It’s designed to be used in marinas, docks and commercial ports, and because it floats, it goes up and down with the tide. Once water is sucked into the Seabin, a catch bag inside stops rubbish and debris, with a submersible water pump displacing clean water afterwards. The designers also claim that the Seabin is capable of filtering a percentage of oils and pollutants floating on the water surface, further helping the environment.

SeaVax Robotic Ship

While the Seabin remains brilliant in its simplicity, SeaVax introduces a whole new level of complexity. The robotic boat features a large collector head on the front capable of vacuuming plastic particles out of the water, while the finished product (we’ve only seen a smaller prototype so far) will pack in huge 150-ton holding tanks for waste. The SeaVax is environmentally friendly on multiple levels, too, running off a mixture of solar power and integrated wind turbines, with no reliance on fossil fuels for power.

Ocean Cleanup

Out of all the concepts here, it’s Ocean Cleanup that has the potential to make the biggest difference, however, aiming to reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – one of five huge areas that rubbish circulates in oceans around the world – by up to 50 percent in just five years. It’s billed as ‘the largest cleanup in history’, with Ocean Cleanup deploying huge (recyclable) polyethylene pipes that float and drift on the water, There are screens attached to the pipes to capture plastics floating under the surface, while the current passes safely below the screens along with sea life. The first 100 metre-long prototype is currently in action in the North Sea, with Ocean Cleanup set to launch its Pacific Ocean system later this year.

4Ocean

4Ocean has taken a different route from the others in this roundup, choosing to sell bracelets in order to clean the oceans. With each $20 bracelet sold, the company pledges to remove one pound of rubbish from the oceans and coastlines, and it’s a project that’s currently active in 27 countries around the world. 4Ocean started with two surfers, Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper, who decided to make a difference after seeing fishermen dragging their boats through a sea of plastic. The project uses people-power ahead of technology, with boats used to collect rubbish at sea and traditional methods to pick up plastic on the beaches, but there’s no denying their effectiveness, with more than 817,066 pounds of trash – the weight of more than three blue whales – collected from beaches and oceans around the world in less than two years.