Boyan Slat is a visionary with a dream of cleaning up the plastic pollution in the world's oceans. But unlike most 20-somethings who may lament the world's environmental degradation, Slat has actually been hard at work on a solution for the last three years. And next year, his vision will become a reality. The Ocean Cleanup Project is slated to launch early next year. If it works, it may alter the fate of our world's oceans and all of the plants and animals that depend on it.

According to the Ocean Cleanup Project website, the project will launch Slat's idea for the world's first ocean cleaning system will launch sometime in 2016. "Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today," Slat writes in a blog post. "Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts, but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time."

Boyan Slat To date, most ideas for ocean cleanup have involved fishing nets that were too cumbersome, too polluting, and too harmful to marine wildlife to be feasible. Slat's idea avoids these problems by utilizing a solar platform that serves as a base for an array of specially angled floating barriers that capture garbage as it drifts towards them in the ocean currents. The barriers are essentially stationary, so marine mammals can more easily swim away from the barriers. In addition, the platform acts as a recycling center to sort the plastic.

Slat has not undertaken the Ocean Cleanup Project lightly. Shortly after coming up with the initial idea when he was 17 — and being told that it could never work — he assembled a team of volunteers and raised $100,000 from a crowdfunding campaign to begin testing a 40-meter collecting barrier near the Azores Islands. Shortly after that, he released a 500-page feasibility study that drew one conclusion: this idea would work.

Since that initial test case, Slat and his team have worked with longer and longer test barriers. Now, they are ready to take the Ocean Cleanup Project live, with a 2,000-meter barrier that will make it the longest floating structure ever deployed in the ocean. 

According to the website, the pilot project "will be operational for at least two years, catching plastic pollution before it reaches the shores of the proposed deployment location of Tsushima island." Tsushima is an island located between Japan and South Korea.

If Slat's idea works as he hopes it will, he plans to build an even larger model to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch currently floating between Hawaii and California.

Can you imagine it? A world free of marine pollution within the next generation? Slat has imagined that future, and now he's making it happen.

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Photo of Slat: TEDxDelft/flickr