Is cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch probably a bad idea

Many scientists worry that flashy efforts to clean plastic from the ocean do more harm than good.

Some marine biologists say that big projects to clear the oceans of plastic are a waste of resources. A plastic removal system operated by The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit, is shown here. The Ocean Cleanup

Last month, a group of marine biologists noticed something fishy in a video posted on Twitter by a nonprofit called The Ocean Cleanup. “This is likely a staged video,” Clark Richards, a scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, wrote. “I call bullshit.”

Note the very “clean” garbage coming out of the net:

In the 25-second clip, a large net appears to dump 8,400 pounds of plastic waste, including crates, buckets, and fishing gear, onto the deck of a ship. The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised more than $100 million on the promise to rid plastic from the seas, said the trash in the video was just pulled from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an infamous region in international waters, between California and Hawaii, that’s polluted with plastic waste.

Richards and several other marine biologists quickly challenged the group’s claim. On Twitter and in media reports, they said that the plastic looked too clean to have been floating for a while in the ocean. There should have been a more visible build-up of marine organisms like algae and barnacles. In response to those allegations, The Ocean Cleanup explained that water in the garbage patch lacks nutrients that marine life needs to grow and shared other reasons why the plastic looked so clean (which some biologists again rebuffed).

On its face, The Ocean Cleanup’s approach to solving one of the hardest environmental problems appears to be a worthy one. But the whole squabble raises a bigger question about cleaning up plastic in the open ocean.