A Dutch 'boy genius' said he could get the ocean to clean itself. Turns out, he's right.

In 2012 — when he was just 18 — Dutch inventor and entrepreneur Boyan Slat gave his first TEDx Talk about cleaning up the ocean .

In his talk, he laid out his idea for cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous and still-growing island of plastic and other trash hanging out in the north Pacific ocean between California and Hawaii.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered in 1997 by sailor and ocean researcher Charles Moore when he was participating in the Transpacific Yacht Race.


Trash collects in that particular spot because of a gyre — a swirling vortex of ocean currents — in the north Pacific that draws marine debris together. A recent Ocean Cleanup study found that the patch, consisting largely of plastic pieces, fishing nets, and other human refuse, is 4 to 16 times larger than previous estimates. It is now twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France.

Charles Moore estimated that it would take 79,000 years to clean it up. Boyan Slat, however, said he believed that with the right technology and approach, the garbage patch could be gone in just five years.

Not only that, but he could clean it in way that had minimal environmental impact and was actually profitable when all was said and done.

Boyan Slat's Ocean Cleanup Foundation will officially begin cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in summer 2018. Photo via Ocean Cleanup Foundation.

Was this remarkable claim youthful naivety? Wishful thinking? Idealism run amok?

Apparently not. Slat's foundation is set to launch the largest ocean trash collection ever this summer.

Since starting the Ocean Cleanup Foundation in 2013, Slat has been working tirelessly to study the issue and develop the technology to clean it up.

It's one thing to come up with an idea — it's something else entirely to see that idea through in the long term.

Slat has spent the past six years studying the ocean's gyres and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand the scope of the issue and develop the most effective means for collecting the trash. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation is an impressive full-time operation with more than 70 engineers, researchers, scientists, and computer modelers working daily to rid the ocean of plastics.

Did I mention Slat was 18 when he founded the project? I don't remember exactly what I was doing when I was 18, but it definitely wasn't building a foundation to solve a major global problem. This young man's intelligence, ingenuity, and initiative blows my mind.

And I'm not the only one. In 2014, Slat became the youngest-ever recipient of the UN's highest environmental award, Champion of the Earth. And Time magazine named the Ocean Cleanup's Ocean Vacuum prototype as one of the Best Inventions of 2015.

The official cleanup is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2018. Slat predicts they'll be able to collect half the plastic in the patch in just five years.

Yes, he originally said he thought the whole thing could be cleaned up in five years, but considering the exponential growth of the garbage patch in the past six years and the additional information they've collected since then, I think half in five years ain't bad.

Image via The Ocean Cleanup Foundation.

Slat and his team have found that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. That's 241 pieces for every human on Earth. Some of it breaks down into smaller pieces, but it always remains, threatening marine life, birds, and ultimately humans as we consume seafood.

"It's really quite safe to say," said Slat, "that it's worse than we thought."

However, Slat remains optimistic and upbeat as he describes the process the foundation has gone through to get to where they are now.

One thing they've learned is that "to catch the plastic," you have to "act like the plastic." The Ocean Cleanup machinery uses the ocean's own currents and the physics of how plastic gathers and moves in order to collect it passively, without using unnecessary energy, effort, or resources.

I'm not a scientist, and I'm not going to begin to describe the cleanup technology beyond that, but you can check out the details here and in this unveiling of the Ocean Cleanup prototype, where Slat explains how it all works:

As a person who loves the ocean — not to mention inspiring people — I'll be following Slat's cleanup project closely. With so many environmental protections being dismantled in the U.S., it's refreshing to see people focused on solving problems — and it's especially awesome to see it being done so well.

Here's to the dedicated folks working to save the environment and better our world. And here's to the young people who keep showing us how it's done.

True

2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less