Ocean Cleanup’s reef works! It is stopping the plastic tsunami of the most polluted river in the world

Ocean CleanUp has created a system of extremely resistant floating arms positioned along the Rio Motagua river to capture plastic

Plastic pollution in our oceans is a global emergency that demands immediate action, starting with the swift reduction of massive annual inflows of plastic into the oceans from rivers. The Ocean Cleanup’s mission is precisely to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this, they deploy “Interceptors” in some of the most polluted rivers on Earth, offering practical and innovative ways to prevent plastic from reaching the seas and keeping our oceans clean in the most at-risk areas.

Despite initially capturing tons of waste flowing downstream, the attempt was not successful, and most of the trash was lost. As a result, they spent a year studying why it didn’t work as expected and devising a new plan, now implementing a new type of Interceptor in an attempt to complete the job.

The Rio Motagua Situation

The Rio Motagua faces challenges like no other. It is Guatemala’s largest river and suffers from a series of circumstances and challenges that have led to a significant source of ocean plastic pollution from within and around Guatemala City. The Rio Las Vacas, a tributary of the Rio Motagua, is located near Guatemala City, a sprawling and growing community of one million people.

Like many populous cities in the region, Guatemala City faces challenges in developing waste management and sanitation systems, particularly in response to extreme weather events. Each year, seasonal rains cause sudden floods that carry vast amounts of waste through the Rio Las Vacas, into the Rio Motagua, and out to sea.

Typical waste management challenges are exacerbated by illegal landfills – plastic and other wastes disposed of directly into the river both in Guatemala City and other regions. Local authorities are committed to addressing these issues through a series of initiatives, but these solutions take time to be successfully implemented, while each year, trash tsunamis continue to end up in the ocean.

Time is a luxury our oceans do not have. If successful, the project will have a significant impact on plastic pollution in the oceans of the Gulf of Honduras and contribute to cleaner and healthier waters for Guatemala and the broader international region.

How the Interceptor Barricade Works

After the defeat, the team identified the problem that had weakened the Interceptor Trashfence: the foundations. They then began developing a new solution, Interceptor 006, capable of containing large amounts of plastic while allowing sufficient water flow to reduce system pressures.

The Interceptor Barricade is a system of extremely resistant floating arms placed along the river to effectively capture plastic, allowing water to pass freely under the surface. It is located in a hydroelectric lake, in the Rio Las Vacas near the town of Chinautla, about 10 miles (approx. 16 km) north of Guatemala City.

Since the flow rate here should be lower than the original location, pressures on the system will be reduced. To design and build the Interceptor Barricade, The Ocean Cleanup collaborated with Worthington Products, a US-based company specializing in river debris control solutions.

This led to the development of a two-arm system: one upstream with a length of 167ft (51 meters) and a second downstream at 350ft (107 meters) in length to capture everything the upstream arm cannot. Each arm is chained to two concrete foundations on the riverbank.

By anchoring the barriers with foundations that are on the land (rather than on the riverbed, as with last year’s solution), the risk of erosion problems recurring can be avoided. The foundations consist of large concrete anchors (for which a total of 144 cubic meters of concrete will be poured), each fixed with six piles 8.5 meters deep.

The precise installation of the two arms relative to each other can be moved in response to data collected during operations. It is also possible to increase or decrease the tension of the anchor chains, if necessary, or adjust the steel mesh above and below each of the arms to minimize losses or improve buoyancy.

Addressing such a significant challenge requires local expertise and reliable partners. Through its support for The Ocean Cleanup and Interceptor 006, the Municipality of Guatemala City has demonstrated its commitment to taking meaningful action on plastic pollution in the Rio Motagua, as part of its broader initiative to protect the environment in and around Guatemala City.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

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