In 2020, the Pacific Ocean might actually start to get a bit cleaner.
That's the hope of The Ocean Cleanup, an organization that on Sunday completed a reconnaissance mission geared toward measuring the amount of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Researchers used GPS and a smartphone app to detect pollution during the monthlong mission.
"I've never seen an oceanic area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Julia Reisser, the group's lead oceanographer, said during a press conference in San Francisco.
Mounting garbage has been a tremendous problem for the world's oceans. Currently, coastal countries add 8 million tons of plastic to our oceans every year, and the rate is accelerating -- in part because many more people are now able to actually afford plastic products.
The Ocean Cleanup's so-called Mega Expedition, which was funded in part by tech entrepreneur Marc Benioff, found that some of the plastic in the Pacific had been there since the 1950s. Fish can become contaminated when they eat plastic, so you can imagine why getting rid of the garbage is of urgent ecological concern.
To that end, the Ocean Cleanup group hopes to deploy a 60-mile-long barrier in the middle of the Pacific to trap the garbage and make it easier to dispose of responsibly. They'll publish the findings of their expedition next year and get to work on a 1-mile prototype first, according to the Associated Press.
Of course, cleaning the ocean is only part of the battle. Sustainable solutions are required to actually prevent the problem from getting worse.
Still, it's a start. Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup, made that clear during the press conference.
"With a single system, in 10 years time, approximately half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be cleaned up," Slat said.