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Earth 8: Meet FRED, an unmanned robot to clear the sea

News 8’s Neda Iranpour shows us how a local non-profit, “Clear Blue Sea” has come up with a plan to clear all that destructive trash out of the water.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — We all know plastic pollution is a major issue, there are giant gyres in the ocean with tons of plastic swirling in them, breaking down into microplastics.

News 8’s Neda Iranpour shows us how a local non-profit, “Clear Blue Sea” has come up with a plan to clear all that destructive trash out of the water.

The trash that comes from our streets often ends up in the bay then into the ocean. Well, what if there was a robot that could pick up the plastic and trash before it even entered the ocean? And what if that robot could access places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and clear that up?

Meet, FRED. FRED stands for "Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris."

A cute name with the serious business of cleaning up trash out of the water.

Each year, research shows 14 million tons of trash end up in the ocean, that’s a trash truck load every single minute. A lot of that trash ends up in ocean gyres where plastic breaks down into microplastics.

You may have seen images of sea turtle caught in fishing nets but what you can’t always see are the microplastics that unknowingly get eaten by sea life, and it all goes right back to humans, in the form of seafood you might eat for dinner.

A study by the World Wildlife Fund showed, each week we consume 5 grams or a credit card size worth of plastic! All from tiny pieces of plastic in our food, the air, even the water.

That’s why the makers of FRED hope to clear the plastic out of the water.

The makers of FRED’s are interns and volunteers, students in high school and college who have come up with some brilliant plans that are currently in the testing phase.

Different models of FRED’s have been tested on the water and a few are currently stored in the Clear Blue Sea warehouse.

They also have a FRED-DIY version, “We want to put an instructional package in the public domain, so anyone who wants to clean plastic will have those opportunity to create their own FRED,” says Kim-Ashleigh Mostert-Freiberg, a business manager at Clear Blue Sea.

Sustainability is a top priority - from the solar panels to even some of the parts.

A boom would guide the debris to the conveyer belt which is porous so the water would drop through. But the holes are small enough that they would even pick up microplastics, anything from 5 millimeters to 5 meters.

FRED also has has acoustic pingers to warn marine animals and so far they have had no problems with sea life. 

Kim-Ashleigh says, “We wouldn’t pick up any live animals, FRED’s move really slowly to make sure animals moves out of way.”

All that damaging trash would end up in bins that would then meet up with a mothership or come back to land, to get recycled or even reused. It’s a full-circle type of concept.

The trash could get turned into stuffed animals, like what the company Shore Buddies has done. They turn plastic bottles into stuffed turtles, dolphins, and sea gulls.

Clear Blue Sea has also created coozies out of plastic bottles.

Kaitlyn Stathas, sustainability analyst at Clear Blue Sea says, “This is our collaboration with Café Virtuoso,” and these come with a glass jar. You take the jar to Café Virtuoso to fill it up on coffee, with discount.

Knowing that 16 billion coffee cups are thrown out each year, Clear Blue Sea is trying to not only clean the waste, but they don’t want us to emit as much.

And eventually, they hope to send fleets of FRED’s – 50 footers or 150 footers - into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Using solar power and remote controls, imagine what 100’s of FRED’s could do?

Kaitlyn says, “They’ll go out in fleets and I imagine an Army going out into the ocean in the next 3-5 years.”

So if you see a FRED out in San Diego’s bays or rivers, just know it’s testing the waters.

Clear Blue Sea still needs funding and sponsors to make this sea change happen. They function through donations only and have a team of about 100 interns and volunteers. 

Learn more about them at https://www.clearbluesea.org/

WATCH RELATED: Earth 8: How residents can help wildlife during the drought (May 2021)

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