The longest floating structure in history is about to hit the ocean to fix a big problem.

In 2016, "the longest floating structure in world history" will be placed in the ocean.

Don't worry — it's not another super yacht or party barge or some other contraption that will further pollute the ocean.

Nope, this is a good thing.


It's called The Ocean Cleanup, and it's a 1.2-mile-long system designed to collect and remove plastic from the ocean.

For two years, it will hang out in the ocean, hopefully to begin undoing what we've done for decades: polluted the heck out of the water with plastic trash.

Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

It's basically a stationary array of barriers that uses the ocean's natural currents to collect the plastic at a central location.

When I first wrote about The Ocean Cleanup a year ago, I thought it was something that moved through the ocean, collecting trash as it went. But that's not how it works at all.

Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup stays right where it's launched.

Here's how it works:

"Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? Instead of going after the plastic using boats and nets, The Ocean Cleanup will use long floating barriers, using the natural movement of the ocean currents to passively concentrate the plastic itself. "

"Virtually all of the current flows underneath these booms, taking away all (neutrally buoyant) sea life, preventing by-catch, while the lighter-than-water plastic collects in front of the floating barrier."

"The scalable array of floating barriers, attached to the seabed, is designed for large-magnitude deployment, covering millions of square kilometers without moving a centimeter."

Images and captions by The Ocean Cleanup.

The plan is to deploy The Ocean Cleanup near Tsushima, an island between Japan and South Korea, and let it do its thing for two years. Then the next step is to use all the plastic junk it collects as an alternate energy source.

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. (Although, this is quite the opposite of killing birds, so ... bad metaphor).

Unfortunately, the ocean is suuuper polluted.

A lot of that pollution is plastic trash — 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every single year.

Right now, about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are floating around the ocean.


Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

And pollution, as we know, causes many environmental, economic, and health problems. For example, plastic kills over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. (That's awful.)

The animals it doesn't kill are often left deformed, as was the case with Peanut the turtle, whose shell was warped after she got stuck in a six-pack plastic ring. The same thing happened to this poor guy too.

Plastic pollution is expensive! Plastic in the oceans costs companies across the world over $13 billion a year and the U.S. government hundreds of millions in coastal cleanup efforts. Wouldn't it be great if we could spend that $13 billion elsewhere?

Removing plastic trash from the ocean has been a huge struggle. But that's about to change.

So far, attempts to clear plastic waste from the ocean have involved ships and nets and just haven't worked. According to The Ocean Cleanup, solutions that move through the ocean to remove trash tend to be ineffective and also cause more damage:

"Using vessels and nets to collect the plastic from one garbage patch would take about 79,000 years and tens of billions of dollars. Besides, such an operation would cause significant harm to sea life and generate huge amounts of CO2 and other emissions."

That's what makes The Ocean Cleanup so cool. All studies show it's going to work, it's cost effective, and it doesn't kill sea life.

In fact, they are estimating that The Ocean Cleanup could remove half the plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just 10 years, costing 33 times less money and happening 7,900 times faster than the old vessel and net method.

This first deployment near Tsushima will give them an opportunity to test out exactly how much trash can be removed, and how quickly, in reality.

Oh, and the guy who created this? He was a teenager when he got started on it.

Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

Boyan Slat is the genius behind The Ocean Cleanup. He's into his 20s now, so he's getting pretttty old. (Next time someone complains about "kids these days," share this story with them.)

He was on a diving trip in Greece in 2011 — you know, when he was around 16 — and was astounded by the amount of plastic he came across, wondering why nobody had cleaned it up.

Instead of waiting for someone to fix it, Slat came up with an idea himself, which he presented in 2012. In 2013, he began leading an international team of 100 engineers and scientists, and in 2014, they raised $2.2 million in crowdfunding.

And here we are today!

This year, we're going to learn exactly how quickly our oceans can be cleaned up.

A year ago, it was still in development. Now, it's happening. Imagine if it all goes according to plan! We could have cleaner oceans, healthier wildlife, and save money.

It's so great to see The Ocean Cleanup in action because pretty soon this ugliness that fills our oceans...

Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

...will be replaced by this thing of beauty!

Image by The Ocean Cleanup.

Of course, plastics aren't the only oil-based threat to the ocean. There's also, you know, literal oil.

Most plastics are made from petroleum taken from the core of the Earth. And while petroleum certainly makes a mess in its processed form, it's easier to separate solid plastics from water than raw, liquid petroleum.

This is especially true when that dangerous liquid is spewing from the Earth at uncontrollable rates, as tends to happen when we start drilling underwater.

If you want to help protect the oceans from more damage by fossil fuels, you can start by signing this petition to support America's Clean Power Plan — because there's no giant Ocean Cleanup rig that can clean the oil that will spill into our oceans.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

Keep Reading Show less

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."