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Status 2022
Oceans full of plastic

The biggest garbage dump in the world

By 2050 there will be more plastic swimming in the oceans than fish. But a "manatee" has been cleared for action to combat this problem.

If you are planning a beach vacation to Hawaii, think twice. You should by no means be surprised to find heaps of plastic on the idyllic white sand beaches of these beautiful islands. But here's the real clincher: Researchers fear that by 2050 there will be more plastic swimming in the oceans than fish. How is that pos­sible? Every year about 32 percent of the approxi­mately 78 million pieces of plastic packaging used worldwide end up in the environment, in large part in our oceans. Every second we pollute the oceans with about 2.5 tons of plastic, which will never disappear from there.

But the real problem is not only the sheer quantity, but the fact that plastic simply does not decay. If someone had thrown the first plastic bag that was invented in 1961 into the ocean, you would still be able to find it there today. This bag would not break down until the year 2460. Well, at least that's something, you say? Not even close! This is when the problem really starts. That's because fish and mussels mistake micro­plastic for plankton and eat it, which means that the micro­plastic can ulti­mately end up on your plate. This, of course, has some dire consequences for your health.

A plastic mound the size of Europe is floating between America and Asia

Researchers have dubbed this swimming continent of plastic the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Estimates about its size and weight fluctuate, because the floating colossus literally has fluid borders. Four other gigantic plastic mounds of unknown size have been spotted in the other oceans.

Can a fleet of ships save the oceans?

It’s an innovation that could rid our oceans of at least a part of the floating plastic. Its official name is a little long-winded: the first certified marine litter collecting ship. The ship has been formally christened "Seekuh" ("Manatee"). The Seekuh is a special catamaran that can extract plastic waste from the sea, weighs 6 metric tons, measures 12 meters in length and 10 meters in width and was co-financed by Deutsche Telekom.

The goal is to have a sea elephant together with 50 manatees roam the seas, powered by photo­voltaics, with the manatees collecting plastics and the elephant making heating oil from it. Günther Bonin, inventor of the "Seekuh"

Günther Bonin, inventor of the ship, designed it so that it can be disas­sem­bled and brought to any place in the world with a freight container – for example to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific.

The catamaran, whose maiden voyage was in the fall of 2016 and has already completed a 6-month test run in Asia, lowers a net into the water between its two hulls, thereby fishing out plastic waste from the ocean at a depth of up to four meters.

The Seekuh sails at "walking speed" so that no animals get caught in its nets. In areas with high volumes of waste in the water, the Seekuh can collect 2 to 3 metric tons several times a day. It can also be used on beaches, where piles of plastic can directly be pushed up onto land, similar to an excavator. And, 800 liters of petroleum can be made from one metric ton of plastic waste. An average vehicle can easily drive 10,000 kilometers on that amount.

With the Seekuh project, Deutsche Telekom has invested in research on which the survival of the oceans and ultimately of humankind depends.

The goal is that an open sea version of the ship, powered by wind and solar power, will soon be built that can indepen­dently collect plastic waste anywhere in the ocean.

But all of us can contribute to making the necessity of waste collection in the sea a thing of the past: by avoi­ding plastic, using paper and fabric rather than plastic bags, using refillable packaging and, if no alter­native is available, properly disposing of the plastic (in the yellow bin).