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Things are looking mighty dark for the planet these days. A report released by the United Nations last week determined that we have about 12 years to turn this whole “climate change” thing around if we don’t want to bring mass destruction upon ourselves through increased droughts, floods and super-storms. While there are a whole lot of areas we need to fix, one clear hero is emerging in the ocean: Wilson.

Wilson is the nickname of the 2,000-foot pipe that is the key to an ocean conservation project set to launch in the next few weeks. The U-shaped pipe connects to a net that extends three meters below the ocean’s surface for the purpose of trapping floating plastic in the water and returning it to shore.

The project is the brainchild of Dutch inventor Boyan Slat for the Ocean Cleanup foundation and is intended to work at decreasing the size of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

No, that’s not a cutesy cartoon field where you find some strange garbage version of Cabbage Patch Kids. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vast floating pile of trash covering a huge section of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. The exact size of the pile is unknown because it is hard to exactly define the edges, but Ocean Cleanup estimates it is about twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Shutterstock

Wilson is set to arrive in San Francisco Tuesday and will be ready to start his cleaning duties in the next few weeks. The company is planning to produce a fleet of about 60 similar pipe-and-net contraptions in the next few years to increase efforts to diminish and hopefully illuminate the plastics in the garbage patch.

Since plastic never truly decomposes — it only breaks down into smaller pieces — the plastic in the ocean is of more concern than some other types of garbage. The pieces can be mistakenly eaten by marine life, trap sea creatures or get caught on their bodies. The chemicals can also leech into the water and soil or contaminate the ocean animals that will at some point be eaten by humans.

If the whole “health of the planet” thing isn’t enough of a reason to want to clean up the oceans, Ocean Cleanup also estimates that plastic pollution costs the world economy $13 billion USD per year through beach cleanup initiatives and financial losses from fisheries.

The Wilson project is one of the biggest scale ocean cleaning initiatives to date and could have a huge positive impact on the overall health of the area. Scientists caution, however, that this should not distract from the root problem here — the fact that all that plastic ended up in the ocean in the first place.

Just remember that hippie-dippy-phrase-turned-mainstream-mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.