Earth Matters: Devices working around-the-clock to combat ocean pollution

Rising sea levels and coral bleaching are just some of the many factors that affect the diverse marine life in Australia. So is ocean pollution. However, there is a group of people hard at work trying to find a viable solution.

Recent research shows the problem is worse than previously thought. Nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. By 2050, researchers estimate there could be more plastic in oceans by weight than fish, unless something changes.

In the waters around the capital city of Sydney, a device called a Seabin is working around-the-clock slowly filtering out debris, in marinas, ports and yacht clubs.

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The Seabin device is capable of catching the equivalent of 90,000 shopping bags or nearly 170,000 plastic utensils over the course of the year. CBS News

"It collects plastics, microplastics, fuel and oil from the surface of the water," said Alexandra Ridout, who works with the Seabin Project.

Each Seabin costs $4,500 and runs on either electricity or solar power.

One Seabin is capable of catching the equivalent of 90,000 shopping bags or nearly 170,000 plastic utensils over the course of the year. There are more than 700 Seabins working in harbors and marinas around the world.

The company is deploying an additional 60 Seabins in the U.S. this week, on top of the six currently cleaning the waters around California.

Scott Tweedie of Network 10 in Australia asked Ridout, "Will the Seabins save our oceans?"

"They won't save the oceans; the only way to save the ocean is through behavioral and cultural change," she replied. "But they're a positive impact. It can make a small difference in the grand scheme of things."

And they're not the only ones working to clean the ocean. There are other ambitious efforts, including a plan (that is currently on hold) to use a 2,000-thousand-foot boom to help collect a massive area of floating trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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As part of the Ocean Cleaup Project, a 2,000-foot-long boom is extended to corral trash floating in the ocean.  CBS News

Marine biologist Vanessa Pirotta said that marine wildlife are consuming plastics at alarming rates. 

"We're seeing turtles and dolphins with plastics inside their stomachs, which is likely a contributing cause as to why they may have died," Pirotta said.

She said that plastic has even been detected in remote places like Antarctica. "Due to awareness around protecting our oceans not only within Australia, but hopefully around the world, we are working towards ways to protect our marine environment."

Some areas around the world are starting to take action against single-use plastics, like banning plastic straws, bags and utensils that litter our oceans and beaches.

Researchers here hope that inventions like Seabins and changes in attitudes toward plastics will make Sydney's Bondi Beach – and beaches around the world – cleaner. 

Check out our Earth Matters blog for more in our Earth Day series!