Spindrift – A Plastic Debris Research Concept Vessel

dnv gl spindrift research vessel

“Like CO2, plastic pollution in the ocean is everyone’s problem,” says Bjørn Haugland, DNV-GL’s Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer. “And like CO2, all the solutions are not clearly visible at present. Innovation is needed.”

Cleaning millions upon million of tons of plastic from the world’s oceans is an enormous and highly complicated undertaking. Even with much of this plastic concentrated inside the 5 major ocean gyres, there is currently no singular solution to this task.

Recognizing the need for greater understanding of the pathways and degradation processes of plastic, DNV-GL and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)  have teamed up to develop the Spindrift, a research concept vessel.

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DNV-GL notes this 85-meter vessel could support 38 researchers for 90 days at sea and offer them a suite of flexible research platforms to better understand the problem and test out solutions for collecting the debris. The vessel has systems for efficient monitoring of the ocean both from the air and in the water column, and is designed to flexibly handle different collection technology.

How long does it take for stuff to degrade in the ocean? DNV-GL provides the following graphic:

how long does plastic take to degrade in the ocean
via DNV-GL, click for larger

Should this vessel become a reality, it would not only provide a research platform, but it would also serve as a collection vessel for any plastics recovered. Its impact would only be a tiny drop in the bucket however, as DNV-GL notes, “to skim the surface layer of the five large gyres would take about 80 years using 1,000 ships.”

Regardless, “the world needs solutions to remove environmental toxins and plastics from the ecosystem, even if we are able to remove only a small fraction.” comments Nina Jensen, general secretary of WWF-Norway. “This must be done without having significant negative effects on the marine life. At the same time, we are in serious need of political will, money and arrangements to prevent new debris from ending up in the ocean in the future.” 

DNV-GL notes Spindrift will help answer questions such as:

  1. At what depths in the water column should clean-up efforts be targeted?
  2. What size fractions should be targeted?
  3. How can the bycatch of living marine resources be minimised?

“More accurate estimates of the amount of debris are also important if regulatory measures involving both producers and consumers of plastic are to be implemented in the future,” says Haugland. “DNV encourages governmental, industry and NGO initiatives to curtail the growing volume of plastic entering the ocean, but that’s not enough. Global pollution control initiatives that cross national borders and oceans are needed. Spindrift offers us an excellent platform for cooperation and innovation.”