Sean Cate
Sean Cate
October 25, 2017 ·  6 min read

Norwegian Billionaire Funds World’s Largest Yacht to Clean Up Ocean Plastic

You may be familiar with the term “all rivers lead to the ocean”. We often forget that what we do on land directly affects our oceans and what we, as a society, are doing is not very pleasant for our ocean neighbors. About 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, with the oceans making up 96.5% of that percentage[1]. The effects of water pollution are staggering, and it does not only affect the ocean wildlife, but it affects each and every one of us. Thankfully, one Norwegian billionaire sees that affect and is making a huge splash when it comes to cleaning up our oceans.

Meet Kjell Inge Røkke: the Billionaire Working to Save Our Oceans

Norwegian billionaire, Kjell Inge Røkke has put his money to good use, by contracting a 595-foot Research Expedition Vessel (REV) that will be used to scoop up 5 tonnes of plastic every day from the ocean to be melted down[2].

Scientists and marine researchers will also be invited aboard to study and innovate around issues like climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution, and extraction[2].

The yacht will be built by VARD, designed by Espen Oeino, and managed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Norway. According to Yacht Harbour, the REV will be the largest yacht in the world.

Kjell Inge Røkke, who started off as a fisherman, and now is worth $2.6 billion dollars and owns almost 67 percent of shipping and offshore drilling conglomerate Aker ASA, hopes to make an impact on the future of the ocean[2].

Røkke told Oslo’s Aftenposen publication, “I want to give back to society the bulk of what I’ve earned. This ship is a part of it…sea covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface and much is not researched.[2]”

The REV should be ready to go around 2020.

Water Pollution is Killing Our Oceans

Pollution can come from a number of sources, but the majority of the pollutants going into the ocean come from activities on land.

Point Source Pollution

Point Source Pollution is caused by a single source, such as an oil or chemical spill. While this type of pollution has a very large impact on the ecological system of the ocean, it occurs less often than other pollution sources[3].

Nonpoint Source Pollution

Nonpoint source pollution is the result of runoff. This runoff can come from small sources, like septic tanks, cars, trucks, and boats, or larger sources, such as farms, livestock ranches, and timber harvest areas[3].  

Of all these, livestock production is the largest contributor of runoff. A team of Stanford University scientists studied the effects of runoff in the Sea of Cortez, a 700-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean that separates the Mexican mainland and the Baja California Peninsula. They found that the phytoplankton, which is usually beneficial to the area, were producing harmful blooms, known as red or brown tides, which release toxins into the water, killing mollusks and fish[4].

Stanford doctoral candidate J. Michael Beman analyzed images of the area from 1998-2002 and found that a couple of days after the irrigation and fertilization of a large farm a massive bloom would appear. The excess water from the irrigation ran through the streams and out into the ocean, carrying fertilizer and pesticides with it, prompting the blooms to form. Each bloom covered 19 to 223 square miles of the gulf and lasted for days[4]. These blooms could cause mass devastation to the ecosystem of the gulf, which would directly affect us, humans.

Nutrients and Algal Blooms

When you think of water pollution, your thoughts don’t typically drift to organic matter. However, it is not always the type of the material that can be a pollutant, but the quantity. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for plant growth, but if they are abundant they can stimulate the excessive growth of algae, called an Algal Bloom. These algal blooms are created based on a number of factors, including excess runoffs from sewage treatment plants, animal feeding operations, agricultural fields, roads, and stormwater. They can be detrimental to living organism because the decomposition of large amounts of algae consumes large amounts of oxygen and depletes the supply for living organisms. Most of these organisms will either leave the area or die[3].

Marine Debris

Marine debris is trash that covers our oceans and beaches. You may have heard of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch which is twice the size of Texas. Well, today there is no place on Earth immune to this problem[3].

The majority of this trash and debris comes from storm drains and sewers, as well as from shoreline and recreational activities. Abandoned or discarded fishing gear can entangle, injure, and maim marine wildlife.

Not only that, but marine debris can interfere with navigation safety, and poses a threat to human health. 

Microplastics, found in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers, microfibers, virgin resin pellets, and large pieces of plastic that becomes weathered by the sun, can also cause harm to both marine wildlife and the human population that feeds off of it. Chemical additives from these microplastics leech into the ocean and have been found in the stomachs of marine organisms[5].

You may not have billions of dollars to build a super-yacht that picks up trash in the ocean, but there are things that you and your family can do right at home that can have a huge impact. If everyone in the world incorporated these little things into their lives, everything would change.

You Can Change the World Too

  1. Leave Less Trash

Help to control the amount of marine debris that makes its way into the ocean by cutting down on the use of plastics in your home. Bring a reusable coffee cup to the cafe instead of using their paper cups. Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store and avoid using the plastic bags for your fruit and veggies. Buying local and in bulk will greatly reduce your waste. You can place your items in glass jars to avoid using disposable containers from the store. If you are able to, growing some of your own food will help you to make the leap into producing minimal waste (and it’ll taste better too!).

2. Ride your bike, use public transit or carpool

Your commute to work may not seem as though it contributes largely to water pollution, but using it every day really adds up. Riding your bike to work sent fewer emissions into the environment, and it will also help to keep you healthy. If it’s available to you, use public transit, or carpool with people in your neighborhood that are going to the same area as you.

3. Educate those around you (kids), whether you live near the water or not

Children are the future, and they need to be aware of the world that we have left them with. They will be the ones who ultimately continue on the campaign to save our planet, so it is important to educate them on the problems that we are facing, and what they can do to stop it.

4. Throw out your trash in the appropriate receptacle

Many cities have either accomplished or are working towards “going green”, by recycling glass and plastics. Look into the services that your area is offering, and jump on board the recycling train.

5. Cut down your meat intake

Currently, the livestock industry is producing animals in order to keep up with the human need. If there were less of a need, fewer animals would need to be produced, and therefore the amount of animal runoff would lessen. By cutting down on your meat intake, you will be helping to bring down the amount of runoff going into the oceans. Try incorporating a few meatless meals into your weekly cooking schedule.

For those on the mainland, the ocean may seem like a faraway place. It is not just the people living close to the water that should be aware of this, it’s the entire population of the planet. If we don’t protect our resources, we all suffer, regardless of where you live. As the caretakers of the Earth, it’s our responsibility to keep it safe and clean. Any pollution that we create will come back to bite us in the end.